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California Largest Utilities Will Spend Billions to Lower Wildfire Risk

2021-02-08 15:23:03
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California's largest utilities said they will spend about $ 13 billion to reduce the risk of wildfires after the worst fire season in modern state history and a series of fires attributed to their equipment.

Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and some smaller utilities filed state-required annual wildfire plans with the California Public Utilities Commission, which must approve them.

PG&E, the country's largest utility company with more than 5.5 million customers concentrated in the north and center of the state, proposed a plan for 2021 and 2022.

It includes a new automated risk model that will help it locate the areas most susceptible to wildfires, where the utility will focus safety work, PG&E said.

The utility said it will continue its efforts to expand those measures, including installing poles that are more fire-resistant and moving overhead power lines underground to prevent them from setting fires when high winds crash them or blow branches into them.

The utility also said it will continue to install weather stations and high-definition cameras across its 70,000-square-mile coverage area.

PG&E said it will also continue to reduce the magnitude of intentional power cuts that have obscured hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses for several days during windy weather. That includes installing hundreds of power outage mitigation devices along with microgrids, which use generators to keep the electricity on and provide more crews to make repairs and restore power.

The latest plan follows a year that saw a record 4 million acres burned around the state and the risk continues to grow, PG&E said.

“We plan around and operate on that premise,” said Matthew Pender, PG & E & # 39; s director for community wildfire safety. "We expect the fireseason to remain very extreme."

PG & E's obsolete equipment was blamed for causing a series of wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that killed more than 120 people and destroyed more than 27,000 homes and other buildings. The damages caused PG&E to file for bankruptcy in 2019, giving the company a legal opportunity to negotiate $ 25.5 billion in settlements with wildfire victims and others.

In addition, last year, SPG & E estimated it could face nearly $ 1 billion in claims from two fires in 2019 and 2020 that killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes. Authorities blamed PG&E equipment for the 2019 fire and the utility is under criminal investigation in connection with last year's fire.

The utility has gone bankrupt and has been allowed to pass on some of the costs of its wildfire fighting efforts to taxpayers. The utility estimated that the cost of the plan will be approximately $ 6 billion by 2021 and 2022.

Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric also submitted updated mitigation plans with a total estimated cost of nearly $ 5 billion for 2021 and 2022.

Last month, Southern California Edison announced it will pay $ 2.2 billion to pay insurance claims from a 2018 wildfire fueled by its equipment. Edison, who did not acknowledge wrongdoing, said the agreement covers all claims in pending lawsuits from insurance companies related to the Woolsey fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Three people died and more than 1,600 houses and other buildings were destroyed.

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