PG&E has been found responsible for around 1,500 wildfires — and that estimation was published back in 2019, well before last year’s dystopian wildfire season. Going into 2021, the utility company hopes its new multi-billion-dollar wildfire mitigation plan will help it spark fewer blazes.
California's largest utility provider has a notorious reputation for causing some (if not most) of the state's deadly wildfires over the past few decades. PG&E pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges last year in relationship to the 2018 Camp Fire, which still remains the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, and it’s now under criminal investigation for 2020's Zogg fire that claimed at least four lives and leveled hundreds of structures. Faced with the inevitably of another wildfires season — one that Matthew Pender, the utility’s director of community wildfire safety, believes will be "very extreme" — PG&E unveiled its $3B wildlife safety program for 2021 before the weekend, laying out future plans and blueprints as to how it intends to contend (and mitigate) blazes in 2021.
As Part of 2021 Plan to Further Reduce Wildfire Risk, PG&E to Deploy New Risk Modeling and Fire Spread Technology - 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan Also Aims to Continue to Reduce Wildfire Risk and Improve Public Safety Power Shutoffs https://t.co/RQWOr1B1xg pic.twitter.com/Wo0ffRx4fm— Pacific Gas & Electric (@PGE4Me) February 6, 2021
One of the more important means of ensuring 2021 won't again ashen the Bay Area air is improving and expanding weather stations to monitor "high fire-threat areas," which PG&E intends to do.
"We are installing advanced weather stations in high fire-threat areas to more precisely predict the need for and timing of PSPS events," says the utility company in a statement. "We’re adding approximately 400 advanced weather stations this year to achieve our goal of 1,300 new weather stations by 2022."
The company, too, has also updated its fire-threat modeling system that takes into account the density and dryness of vegetation, surrounding power lines, nearby structures, and other kinds of pertinent hazards that could exacerbate wildfires. According to the Chronicle, by honing in on these analyses and extrapolating that data into practice, PG&E hopes to better address problem areas — before it's too late.
“It allows us to target much better,” Pender said to the newspaper, noting that such things as tree trimmings and equipment upgrades are subsequent actions when the new hyperlocal model system detects a trouble spot. “Our old model allowed us to target down to a county-level kind of concept, and now we’re at the city level. It’s just that much more granular in terms of where the risk is.”
(Oh, and of course PSPS events will continue well into the future, though we'll hopefully have fewer of them. Or at least see these controlled blackouts become more targeted.)
Among other mitigation tactics, “hardening” vulnerable power lines — the act of burying previously exposed electrical wires beneath the ground or insulating them in some other way — will continue into 2021; back in 2019, some 171 miles of once-exposed power lines were hardened. Clearing vegetation around power lines and other types of equipment is also included in the utility company’s wildfire mitigation plan.
Pender said to The Sacramento Bee that PG&E expects to spend around $3B in 2021 on wildfire safety — about $400M more than it did last year. The utility company plans on putting over $10B toward wildfire safety over the next few years; PG&E also plans on hiring 200 additional inspectors “to confirm that we’re doing vegetation management the right way.”
As climate changes continue to hold our planet hostage, expect wildfires to get worse over the ensuing decades (which will have the potential to set off a domino effect of other environmental problems).
And for all that's holly: there's no need to throw any more pyrotechnic gender reveal parties. Not this year, not next year; not any time, ever.
Image: Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) workers inspect a fire damaged property on September 30, 2020 in St. Helena, California. The fast moving Glass Incident Fire, originally called the Glass Fire, has burned nearly 50,000 acres in Sonoma and Napa counties and has destroyed numerous wineries and structures. The fire is two percent contained. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)