De-Energization

 

 

The CPUC is monitoring the tragic fire conditions throughout the state that began in November 2018, in coordination with our partners from CAL FIRE and Cal OES.

The State's Investor Owned Utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), have general authority to shut off electric power to protect public safety under California law, specifically California Public Utilities Code (PU Code) Sections 451 and 399.2(a). This process is called de-energization. This authority includes shutting off power to prevent fires caused by strong winds. The State's utilities have recently developed programs to exercise this authority during severe wildfire threat conditions as a preventative measure of last resort.

 On July 12, 2018, the CPUC adopted rules to strengthen customer notification requirements before de-energization events and ordered utilities to engage local communities in developing de-energization programs.

The CPUC is working with the Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), CAL FIRE, and first-responders to address potential impacts of utility de-energization practices on emergency response activities, including evacuations. The CPUC is also monitoring the development and will continuously assess implementation of de-energization programs by utilities, including performing a thorough review of de-energization events as they occur.

 

De-Energizing

California is facing unprecedented risk of devastating wildfires.  The year 2017 was the most destructive wildfire season on record, with the Thomas Fire as the largest wildfire in California history. California has already had an even larger wildfire in 2018-the Mendocino Complex Fire.

The State's utilities will de-energize electric facilities only during periods of extreme fire hazard, and only if the utility reasonably believes that there is an "imminent and significant risk" that strong winds may topple power lines or cause major vegetation-related damage to power lines, leading to increased risk of fire. Such de-energization could save lives, protect property, and prevent fires.

 

Consumer Protections

The utilities must ensure that their de-energization policies and procedures are well-communicated and made publicly available before de-energizing.  The utilities must:

  • Convene de-energization informational workshops in areas where a de-energization might occur to explain and receive feedback on their de-energization policies and procedures.  Utilities must invite a wide range of potentially affected customers, including representatives of customers who are low income, have limited English, have disabilities, and are elderly.
  • Meet with representatives of local communities in such areas, and must discuss potential mitigation measures, including any assistance that the utility may be able to provide.
  • Meet, upon request, with groups that may have notification needs different than those of the general public.
  • Notify customers, as feasible and appropriate, of the potential need to de-energize during specific high hazard conditions, at least 2 hours, if possible, before shutting off the power on a line. The utilities must also notify, as feasible, fire departments, first responders, critical facilities, other potentially affected entities, and the CPUC before de-denergizing.

Further, the CPUC has directed the utilities to contact people with medical conditions when there are outages, regardless of cause. Therefore, it is vital that people with medical conditions alert the utility to their condition and make use of the medical baseline program, as appropriate. The programs may be found at:

 

Communications Issues and Concerns with De-energization

End users of communication services will receive differing levels of service when their provider loses power. Communications service providers are required under Decision 10-01-026 to implement programs to educate their customers on the different types of back up power supplies and how to obtain them.

Will my telephone work in a de-energization event? It depends.

  • Wireline customers who subscribe to POTS (plain old telephone service) voice service using copper lines generally have service during a power outage. This is because the central office that serves the residence as backup power, which provides the electricity necessary to operate a wired telephone during a power outage.
    • The CPUC does not have rules mandating backup power for this service, however most central offices do have and maintain backup power.
    • Cordless phones require the end user to maintain the batteries in those devices, so that the home portion of the telephone service can operate in a power outage.
     
  • For VoIP customers, service during a power outage depends on the underlying facility used by the provider. Some VoIP providers will maintain line power (some variants of DSL) during an outage, and others rely on network power which may or may not be present.
  • Cable subscribers with voice service may or may not have service in a power outage.
    • The CPUC does not have rules mandating backup power for this type of service.
     
  • Wireless (cellular) customers may or may not have voice service in a power outage, depending on the backup power installed at cell sites.
    • The CPUC does not have rules mandating backup power for this type of service.
     
  • It is the responsibility of the customer to obtain the required backup power in the residence to have working telephone service during an outage event. This might include batteries for cordless phones, routers, WIFI, fiber termination devices, and other customer premises equipment.

Does a communication provider have to provide service? Some do.

  • A service provider that is designed a Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) must offer basic service to all residential customers in its territory under Decision 12-12-038. This includes AT&T, Consolidated, Frontier, and 13 small rural carriers. View a list of all the COLRs and a map of their service territories.
    • One required element of basic service is for COLRs to provide free access to 9-1-1.
    • The CPUC does not have rules for service providers to keep telephone service operational during a planned power outage.
     
  • If you have a complaint about your telephone service, first call your service provider. If they don't fix it, then please call the CPUC's Consumer Affairs Branch at (800) 649-7570 to submit an informal complaint.

The CPUC's General Order 168 Rule 3 requires communication providers who offer end-user access to the public switched telephone network to provide access to 9-1-1 emergency services to all residential customers and wireless devices. Rule 3 does not require carriers to provide access to 9-1-1 during a power outage or de-energization event.

CPUC Resolution ESRB-8 requires electric utilities to make all practical attempts to notify and coordinate with all potentially affected communications service providers before and after a de-energization event.

 

CPUC De-energization Workshops

The CPUC will hold workshops in northern and southern California to address potential impacts of utility de-energization practices. Read our media advisory. Read our media advisory in Spanish.

  • Workshop on Impacts from De-Energization: Focus on Vulnerable Populations
    • December 14, 2018, 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.: Santa Rosa Veteran's Memorial Building, Lodge Room, 1351 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95404
      • Remote Access: WebEx: https://bit.ly/2KdtB61, meeting number 710 613 992, password: Mitigation; Listen-only call-in number 1-877-820-7831, access code 479881
      • Agenda
       
     
  • Workshop on Impacts from De-Energization: Focus on First Responders and Local Government
    • January 9, 2019, 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.: Calabasas Founders Hall, 100 Civic Center Way, Calabasas, CA 91302
      • Remote Access: WebEx: https://bit.ly/2RU9Oef, meeting number 717 534 465, password: Mitigation; Listen-only call-in number 1-877-820-7831, access code 479881
       
     

CPUC Oversight

The utilities' plans for public outreach, notification, and mitigation regarding de-energization events are on the CPUC's website.

The utilities must submit a report to the CPUC within 10 business days after a de-energization event explaining their decision to shut off power, the notice that was given to customers and community representatives, the number and types of customers affected, the steps they took to restore power, and any other mitigation provided by the utility.

The CPUC may assess de-energization events that occur, and may take enforcement action if a utility's actions were unreasonable.

 

CPUC Decisions and More Information

  • Oct. 26, 2018: Joint Letter from CPUC, Cal OES, and CAL FIRE re: Utility Public Safety Power Shut-Off   
  • Sept. 2018: PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff Policies and Procedures
  • Application 08-12-021filed by SDG&E on December 22, 2008, requested specific authority to shut off power as a fire-prevention measure against severe Santa Ana winds and a review of SDG&E's proactive de-energization measures. Decision 12-04-024 issued on April 19, 2012, provided CPUC guidance on SDG&E's authority to shut off power under the PU Code and also established factors the CPUC may consider in determining whether or not a decision by SDG&E to shut off power was reasonable.
  • The CPUC's Resolution ESRB-8 extended the de-energization reasonableness, public notification, mitigation, and reporting requirements in Decision 12-04-024 to all electric utilities and added new requirements. It also required the utilities to make all feasible and appropriate attempts to notify customers of a de-energization event prior to performing de-energization.
  • Utilities were required to submit to the CPUC their plans for public outreach, notification, and mitigation regarding de-energization events. The plans and more information on the CPUC's wildfire work can be found on the CPUC's Wildfire webpage.
 

 

Utility De-Energization Reports 

 

CPUC De-Energization Reports

 

 

Contact

Contact the CPUC's Public Advisor's Office at public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov or U.S. mail at CPUC, Public Advisor's Office, 505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102 if you have questions or would like to comment.


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