Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) introduced a bill to reduce the risk of wildfires caused by downed power lines. The bill requires electric utilities to adopt comprehensive policies and procedures for proactively de-energizing power lines during extreme weather.
“This last fire season underscored the need to think innovatively and proactively about fire prevention,” said Senator Dodd. “We know downed power lines have caused devastating fires in the past, and we need electric utilities and the Public Utilities Commission to plan ahead and implement best practices. This isn’t a panacea, but it’s an important part of the holistic improvements needed for fire prevention and preparedness. As we adjust to a changing climate, ensuring electricity providers have concrete, well researched wildfire prevention plans in place is absolutely critical. Taking initiative now will minimize disruption and, most importantly, save lives and property.”
Wildfires caused by power lines are not uncommon, and examples span the state from the 2007 Witch Fire in San Diego County to the 2015 Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras Counties. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is currently investigating the causes of the wildfires that swept across the North Bay in October. Wildfires across the state cost lives, homes, and cause billions of dollars in losses and taxpayer costs.
“This bill addresses what we can do proactively when circumstances, like the speed of wind or other natural factors, are beyond our control,” said Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, who represents portions of Napa County hit by the Tubbs Fire, which was the most destructive fire in state history. “Although the causes of these unprecedented wildfires remain under investigation, this experience highlights a need to think differently about our approach to emergency preparedness statewide. This legislation underscores our focus on planning for a time of crisis, and I applaud the authors for their leadership on this issue.”
Dodd’s bill would require investor and municipal electric utilities to update their wildfire mitigation plans to include policies and procedures for determining if, when and where to temporarily de-energize a power line during extreme weather events for the purpose of preventing a wildfire. The utilities would have to assess meteorological conditions, mapping of fire risk zones, observations of vegetation conditions around and near power lines, and establish a protocol for notifying impacted customers.
Current law requires all electric utilities to construct, maintain and operate its electric lines and equipment in a manner that will minimize the risk of wildfire. Utilities are required to prepare a wildfire mitigation plan, detailing the steps it will take to mitigate wildfire risk. Investor-owned utilities must submit the plan to the California Public Utilities Commission for review and comment. However, the plans are not currently required to contemplate de-energizing lines. In recognition of the wildfire threat a downed power line may present, at least one utility has taken steps to address the issue. SDG&E has developed a set of policies and procedures to determine if, when and where it may need to temporarily de-energize a power line to prevent the possibility of triggering a wildfire, and has done so at least 17 times.
The bill, SB 901, is co-authored by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Assemblymembers Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) and Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), and should receive its first committee hearing in March.
Senator Bill Dodd represents California’s 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, and Contra Costa Counties. You can learn more about Senator Dodd at www.sen.ca.gov/dodd.