State regulators issued more stringent fire regulations Thursday morning that will require electric companies to recognize high-hazard areas and prioritize potential safety concerns in these designated areas to further protect public health and well-being.
The new California Public Utilities Commission policy adds rules for vegetation management, utility pole and wire maintenance and also requires utility companies to produce annual fire-prevention plans if they operate overhead lines in these fire-prone zones. The final map of these areas, based on a three-tier structure reviewed by a Cal Fire-led group of independent experts, is scheduled for commission approval in early 2018.
“The ever growing threat of climate change and the wildfires in Northern and Southern California underscore how extremely vigilant we need to be combating the threat of wildfire,” Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said in a statement. “These regulations are a very important step, but we also need to continually evaluate whether our wildfire safety practices are enough.”
The cause of October’s Northern California firestorm that killed 24 people and destroyed 5,130 Sonoma County homes is still under investigation, and the result of a Cal Fire review could be several months out. In the meantime, lawsuits against the region’s publicly traded utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric, have already begun to amass despite its assertion in November that private power lines maintained by a third party may have been the origin.
“We absolutely agree with and support the goal of the commission’s proceeding to reduce the threat of wildfires while addressing the potential impact on our customers,” PG&E said in an emailed statement about Thursday’s action. “Since the beginning of this proceeding, we have been actively engaged with Cal Fire, California Public Utilities Commission, other energy companies, municipalities and community groups to develop new utility fire threat maps and new fire safety regulations that protect our communities and our customers. PG&E supports this proposal as a good, next step, and we know there is more to do to help ensure the greatest protection, reduce the threats of wildfires and minimize the impact on our customers and their communities.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @kfixler.