California Will Set New Blackout Rules to Prevent Deadly Fires

By Mark Chediak | December 17, 2018

California regulators have decided they need to step in and help determine when power blackouts are appropriate to prevent wildfires after a series of deadly blazes linked to electrical equipment.

Utilities PG&E Corp., Edison International and Sempra Energy have been largely left to develop their own programs for proactive power cuts within basic guidelines. But the California Public Utilities Commission said Thursday it will examine setting more detailed standards – including on when to shut power, for how long and how to communicate and coordinate with affected customers.

“In this era, with the ferocity and the unprecedented damages we are seeing from wildfires, we can’t keep doing the same thing and deal with these growing hazards,” California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker said at a meeting Thursday in San Francisco.

The move comes as PG&E faces intense scrutiny over whether its equipment sparked the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people and leveled the town of Paradise in Northern California. PG&E had considered shutting power to the area before the fire started but decided that weather conditions didn’t warrant it. PG&E already faces $15 billion in potential liabilities for wildfires in 2017 and could face a similar amount in claims for 2018, according to Citigroup Inc. State investigators have blamed 17 of the 2017 fires on PG&E equipment.

Sempra’s San Diego Gas & Electric utility has shut down electrical lines during windstorms for years, but PG&E had long resisted taking that step. In October, PG&E cut power to customers in Northern California for the first time during a period of dry winds and low humidity.

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