De-Energization

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:

 

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

  • Sept. 2018: PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff Policies and Procedures
  • SDG&E De-Energization Reports
  • 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.

 

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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