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PG&E applies multiple layers of protection to fight wildfires

PG&E welcomes and values engagement on our Community Wildfire Safety Program. We want our customers and our hometowns to see and know the work we are doing to make our electric system safer and more resilient against the threat of wildfires.

Your recent editorial (“New PG&E wildfire safety strategy requires scrutiny”) asked important questions about our efforts to mitigate wildfires.

I can say unequivocally that every one of our 26,000 coworkers at PG&E are dedicated to ending catastrophic wildfires caused by our equipment. Over the past few years, we have reduced the wildfire risk posed by our equipment by 90%, and this year we estimate that we will achieve a 94% reduction with new and expanded measures.

We have advanced and evolved our wildfire programs and tools with the goal of delivering maximum risk reduction at the lowest possible cost to our customers.

We want to reassure our customers that the essential work of our trained PG&E vegetation-management inspectors and our contract vegetation-management crews continues.

Every day, we have more than 5,500 employees and contractors on the job throughout our Northern and Central California service area working to keep trees and tree limbs from coming in contact with our power lines. This year, we are further evolving our vegetation management programs based on a risk-informed approach. Recent data and analysis highlighted that our Enhanced Vegetation Management program risk reduction was significantly less than risk reduction from our operational mitigation measures including Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings, which turn off power in one-tenth of a second or less when a potential hazard is detected. As a result, we evolved the EVM program to more targeted and risk-informed vegetation management programs.

Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings have been successful at reducing risk. Last year, we achieved a 68% reduction in ignitions in High Fire-Threat Districts. We also achieved a 99% reduction in acres burned in 2022 compared with the average acres burned from 2018 to 2020.

And we’ve made progress in reducing impacts to our customers. Over 80% of our customers on these circuits experienced two or fewer EPSS outages in 2022. So far in 2023, the number rises to 96% of customers protected by these setting experiencing  two or fewer outages.  Additionally, where our customers have experienced an outage, we are restoring them safely on average within three hours, consistent with last year’s performance, which represents more than 50% improvement since 2021.

California still faces significant challenges related to catastrophic wildfire risk, even with the wet winter we experienced — the rain simply delayed the fire season but did not eliminate it. That’s why our approach to wildfire safety is adaptive and systematic and includes multiple layers of protection.

In addition to vegetation management, EPSS, and undergrounding 10,000 miles of powerlines, our layers of protection include many other efforts to reduce wildfire risk:

• Strengthening the electric system with stronger poles and covered powerlines in and near high fire-risk areas.

• Investing in advanced tools and technologies, such as artificial intelligence, and to automating fire detection and response.

• Reducing the impact of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).

While there were no weather-driven PSPS outages in 2022, it continues to be a top focus for our team.

We also want to hear from our customers directly. We’ve invited customers to a series of meetings in the Bay Area, including an open house on Aug. 15 in Los Gatos, a webinar on Aug. 17 for customers in Castro Valley and an open house in Moraga later this month.

Every day, our mission is to make our electric system safer than it was the day before. That’s our unwavering commitment to our customers and our hometowns.

Sumeet Singh is PG&E’s executive vice president, operations, and its chief operating officer.

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