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SoCalEd files $582M program to mitigate wildfire risks

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SoCalEd files $582M program to mitigate wildfire risks

Southern California Edison Co. has proposed a $582 million program to harden its electric infrastructure against the growing risk of wildfires.

In a Sept. 10 filing to the California Public Utilities Commission, the Edison International subsidiary proposed additional wildfire safety measures, including replacing overhead transmission lines with insulated wire and installing current limiting fuses, to reduce the potential risk of ignition from its infrastructure. The program's amount includes $407 million in capital spending and $175 million of operations and maintenance expenses.

The proposed grid safety and resiliency program is aligned with the recently passed Senate Bill 901 in California. Late on Aug. 31, state legislators scrambled to come up with this last-minute law that would shield investor-owned electric utilities from billions of dollars in damages that result when electrical equipment ignites brush or trees. The bill is awaiting California governor's signature to become a law.

As part of the program, SoCalEd will replace nearly 600 miles of overhead lines in high fire risk areas with insulated wire by the end of 2020. It also plans to replace about 3,400 miles of overhead line with insulated wire between 2021 and 2025. The utility intends to include funding for 3,400-mile initiative in future general rate case requests.

Additionally, the company plans to install 15,700 of current limiting fuses to reduce the risk of wildfires and boost reliability; deploy up to 160 high-definition cameras to better manage emergency personnel; and install up to 850 weather stations, beginning with 125 weather stations this year. Among other initiatives, the utility proposed to inspect all trees within 200 feet of its electric facilities and remove or prune trees that could pose a potential threat during high winds.

If approved, residential customers would see an increase of about $1.20 to their average monthly bills; income-qualified California alternate rates for energy, or CARE, customers would experience an increase of about 81 cents per month.

"The devastation caused by the 2017 and 2018 wildfires leaves no doubt that wildfire risk has increased to the point where California needs to reassess the way we collectively prepare for and prevent wildfires," said Phil Herrington, SoCalEd senior vice president of transmission and distribution. "We are taking a holistic approach and proposing to implement measures between now and the end of 2020 that will further harden our infrastructure, bolster our situational awareness capabilities and enhance our operational practices."