Southern California Edison's electric infrastructure caused more fire ignitions in 2020 than in prior years, but those ignitions resulted in fewer structures and acres burned, utility leaders told the California Public Utilities Commission at an Aug. 26 public workshop.
In 2020, SCE's electric system caused about 145 ignitions, compared with about 115 ignitions in 2017. However, the number of structures burned decreased 95 percent between 2017-2018 and 2019-2020, and the number of acres burned decreased by 65 percent, representatives said. Fire ignitions have increased more slowly in high-fire-threat areas compared with non-fire-threat areas, representatives said at the workshop.
The CPUC and the state's newly formed Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety hosted the public workshop, which was meant to "fill a gap" in the commission's safety and oversight process for the state's energy utilities, CPUC member Clifford Rechtschaffen said at the workshop.
"We of course have hundreds of expert safety staff that perform oversight and enforcement work," Rechtschaffen said. "Today's meeting . . . provides the public with the opportunity to hear a discussion between the boards of directors of the utilities, the CPUC, and [OEIS]."
SCE has made meaningful progress on its wildfire mitigation work this year, representatives said: Covered-conductor installations in 2021 have reduced faults on lines by 69 percent compared with bare conductors, while tree-trimming work has reduced contact between lines and trees by 50 percent.
Last week, the CPUC approved SCE's $6.9-billion base revenue requirement for 2021, which is about 7.6 percent greater than its current revenue amount. Much of the increased revenue will go toward wildfire mitigation work, including installing another 4,500 miles of covered conductors (see CEM No. 1655). Additionally, last week the California Department of Justice decided not to pursue criminal charges against SCE for the Woolsey Fire in 2018, which killed three people, destroyed 1,600 structures and was related to issues with the utility's electric system (see CEM No. 1655).
Contractor deaths have decreased from three each in 2019 and 2020 to zero so far in 2021, SCE said. There have been no employee fatalities in the past three years.
Additionally, SCE has completed all of its distribution and transmission equipment inspections for 2021; installed 540 miles of covered conductors out of 1,000 miles planned; and installed 140 out of 330 fast-acting fuses planned.