On Monday, Sept. 10, Southern California Edison unveiled its plan to improve the safety of its equipment, especially within fire-prone areas, and reduce the threat of exacerbating wildfires. The entire initiative, which will cost about $580 million, has been submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval.

SCE has designed a multi-phase program, with much to be accomplished by 2020 and more in the following years.

“We’re going beyond traditional state practices,” said Phil Herrington, senior vice president of Transmission and Distribution at SCE in a press teleconference Monday afternoon. “We’ll employ the leading mitigation measures from around the world.” Some of the actions have begun to be implemented or installed, such as weather stations and high-definition cameras.

During the teleconference, Herrington elaborated on the different aspects of the plan. Hardening of infrastructure, increasing situational awareness and enhancing operational practices are the three areas SCE intends to strengthen with these investments.

Within the next two years, the utility plans to “replace nearly 600 miles of overhead power lines in high fire-risk areas with insulated wire,” and another 3,400 miles by 2025.

This work is designed to reduce the chances of “arcing and sparking” from tree limbs, metallic balloons or palm fronds, which frequently blow onto power lines, he explained. Also, fire-resistant composite poles will be installed to support the additional weight from the new, heavier wires.

Another improvement will be installing almost 16,000 current-limiting fuses. This device can interrupt the power in a circuit more quickly, thus reducing heat, than current fuses. The current-limiting fuses also will segment circuits when isolating a problem. Thus, an outage will affect fewer customers.

Situational awareness will be improved using the high-definition cameras and better weather data. Some of these have already been installed.

The enhanced operation practices will involve more vegetation management, remote inspections and power shutoffs.

While the CPUC has issued new rules on tree pruning in high fire-risk areas, SCE plans to do more. According to the press release, the utility will “inspect all trees within 200 feet of its electric facility, and remove or prune trees that could strike the equipment.” While beyond the current clearance requirement, Herrington noted that during high winds, their proximity presents a threat.

SCE also will make greater use of infrared technology to conduct inspections of remote distribution lines.

And, as the Hill experienced in December 2017, safety-power shutoffs, although a last resort, are part of the initiative. But better information and greater amelioration of the necessary inconvenience will be employed.

SCE has developed a new emergency outage notification system. Further, for those in the midst of an outage, SCE will provide “Portable Community Power Trailers.” At the trailers, “customers can charge their personal devices (mobile phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) …”

“It’s a new normal since 2017. Already, 2018 is an active wildfire year,” Herrington said. “Changing state policies and recent legislation underscore [these needs].”

If the CPUC approves these actions, SCE estimates the average customer bill will increase $1.20 monthly. For customers using California Alternate Rates for Energy assistance program, the estimated increase will be 81 cents.

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