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Responding to high fire risk

PG&E's enhanced power line safety settings have led to a 50 percent decrease in potential ignitions

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The threat of wildfire in California and other Western states continues to grow. Severe drought conditions, dry fuels, and rising temperatures are driving unprecedented increases in the potential risk for wildfires. To combat this increased risk, PG&E is continuing to evolve our wildfire prevention efforts for the safety of our customers and communities.

One of the new steps that we have taken is adjusting the power line safety settings of protection devices on the grid to automatically turn off electricity more quickly if the lines experience an issue. These can include tree branches, mylar balloons, and even, unfortunately, wildlife striking equipment. By adjusting the sensitivity of these settings, power shuts off faster, reducing wildfire risk. Since these updated settings were implemented in late July 2020, PG&E has seen a decrease of more than 50 percent in ignitions that could have resulted in catastrophic wildfires, as compared to the prior three-year average.

While these settings make our electric system safer, they have resulted in more frequent, longer-duration outages for some of you. We have heard loud and clear the burden these outages are causing and that we must improve. Here are some of the steps we are taking right now for our customers:

• Fine-tuning the sensitivity of each protection device to match the wildfire risk on each circuit.

• Improving communication between equipment to automatically limit outage size.

• Enhancing restoration patrols to restore power more quickly when it goes out.

• Revamping the information that we are able to share with customers during an outage.

We recognize the hardship that these outages our causing, but we also know this safety measure is working. On Sept. 7, a PG&E technician responding to an outage found an oak tree that had broken and fallen on a power line, taking down two poles and the power line with it. This occurred in an area at a high risk for wildfire, with difficult access for firefighters if a wildfire had started. While we can't predict where or when this might occur, community safety must come first.

As we work to make improvements to our system, there are programs available to support customers. For example, some customers may qualify for our portable battery and generator rebate programs. Visit pge.com/wildfiresafety to learn more. There, you can also find more information about why we're raising the sensitivity on our electric equipment in high fire threat areas. Just click on the tab titled, "Learn about enhanced power line safety settings."

We want to thank our customers for your partnership and understanding. We are committed to getting better and making our system safer for our hometowns while improving the reliability of our electric service. If you have any questions, please email us at wildfiresafety@pge.com. Δ

Teresa Alvarado is the vice president of PG&E's South Bay and Central Coast Region. Respond with a letter to the editor emailed to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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