High temperatures without air conditioning are a concern
While Gov. Gavin Newsom, Cal Fire, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and many citizens are concerned about the number and size of wildfires, which have burned millions of acres, two Riverside County supervisors are proposing that the state or the utilities reimburse the county and local governments for the costs incurred when power is shut off to avoid an electrical fire.
The proposal and concerns were discussed during the board of supervisors’ July 23 meeting.
Supervisors V. Manuel Perez (District 4) and Jeff Hewitt (District 5) are concerned about Public Safety Power Shut-offs (PSPS) during periods of high temperatures. Their districts include the desert areas of eastern Riverside County.
When daytime temperatures are in the 100s, Perez and Hewitt are worried about the impact of the heat on many people. During a PSPS, all electricity is off, which includes air conditioning.
Unless the individual or business has a generator, their home or facility will be without any power for an unknown period of time.
In their memorandum to their board colleagues, the two supervisors refer to a 2001 law former State Sen. Jim Battin introduced. This law requires the CPUC to consider the effect of extreme temperatures on residential customers during an outage.
“Deserts do burn,” acknowledged Hewitt. “But at what point does the danger of starting a fire get overridden by the danger of an elderly person in a home, dying from the heat, when the air conditioning goes out.”
Not only is he concerned about the heat risk to individuals in their own residence, but Hewitt referred to facilities such as nursing homes or hospices. He asked, “Without air conditioning, how will a facility’s staff be able to care for the resident?”
In addition, the supervisors note that when a PSPS is implemented, evacuations are a necessary consequence. Then county or local governments often need to establish shelters for the displaced residents.
Perez and Hewitt want the state to consider legislation that would reimburse local governments for their costs incurred during the PSPS.
“Under the current policy, the costs for this type of response and sheltering are not reimbursable and cost for such efforts to protect the public are borne by the County of Riverside and other local governments in the area of impact. It is in the best interest of all parties to develop a pathway, through a collaborative effort, to reimburse for services rendered,” they wrote in the proposal to their colleagues.
During the Cranston Fire, Riverside County’s Department of Public Social Services was tasked with coordinating shelters. It did not receive nor provide any reimbursements for the shelters (Banning High School) that were established or for the meals served, according to Shane Reichardt, senior public information specialist for Riverside County’s Emergency Management Department.
Both Supervisors argued that a 1,000-acre desert fire is unlikely to burn a human, but heat exposure, without air conditioning, is a threat to thousands in their districts.
Supervisor Chuck Washington noted that PSPSs have already affected residents on the hill, but he noted that Southern California Edison (SCE) has been very responsive to complaints, such as the recent helicopter flights over the residential neighborhoods.
“I’m happy to see them more proactive,” Washington said. “We’re in a new environment with wildfire … I don’t think we should, not yet, be punitive for those trying to do work, whether the private or public sector, to create a safer environment.”
He then recommended deferring any action on the proposal until SCE and the county can have more discussion.
Washington indicated that he wanted to review the issue in more detail and was not certain that a legislative solution was needed for a complex problem.
“I didn’t want to act flippantly. I want to look at the subject in greater depth. For example, the new state laws and the utilities responsibilities,” he said.
Hewitt stressed that the other districts don’t suffer the high temperatures that occur in the fourth and fifth districts. The board voted 3-2, with both Hewitt and Perez opposed, to bring the issue back in two weeks.
SCE spokesman, Jeremy Goldman, requested additional consultation and discussion with the county to address this issue. He noted that the CPUC rulemaking establishes the process for initiating a PSPS. Further recent legislation, Senate Bill 901 and Assembly Bill 1054, both encourage utilities to use PSPS more often as a means of reducing wildfire threats. SCE is the largest utility and taxpayer in Riverside County.