NV Energy recently added several areas across northern Nevada to its Public Safety Outage Management program in response to increased wildfire risk.
"We filed the paperwork in March, and last week was our first time sharing this expansion with the general public," Jesse Murray, NV Energy vice president of gas delivery and natural disaster protection, said. "We have expanded our risk areas outside of Lake Tahoe in the north and Mount Charleston in the south."
Under the PSOM, NV Energy shuts off power in areas considered to be at extreme or elevated fire risk to help prevent wildfires caused by power lines and other equipment. The company has utilized the program since 2019 in high-fire-risk areas, including near Lake Tahoe and Mt. Charleston.
The PSOM expansion now includes Tier 1 Elevated areas and Tier 2 areas, both identified as high-level fire risk areas by NV Energy working in conjunction with first responders, emergency management and local government officials. All of the areas are located in northern Nevada counties and municipalities, including Washoe County, Douglas County, Storey County, Humboldt County, Elko County and Carson City.
"The change of wildfire risk is the purpose behind the PSOM expansion," Murray said. "We filed the paperwork after talking to those community stakeholders to ensure community buy-in to engage these areas. The benefit is to avoid wildfires in the community and logistically expand resources to serve citizens in a time of emergency."
The new northern Nevada areas covered in the PSOM Program are defined as subject to "elevated, but not extreme" threat of power shut-offs because they are not heavily forested, but rather are located in either high desert, brush ranges or tree ranges, as well as in mountain foothills.
"We know from the 2018 Martin Fire, which expanded to be the largest fire in the United States at that time, that we have to be just as proactive in these areas as Lake Tahoe and Mount Charleston," Murray said. "This will affect about 72,000 customers, as this is an attempt to be as surgical and detailed as possible with our PSOM coverage."
NV Energy has 21 unique zones identified in its PSOM map. The company's outage-management process typically begins seven to 10 days in advance with close monitoring of weather forecasts that still cannot always accurately predict wind gusts, making attention to detail even more important during the process.
"If we see a PSOM possible in a 48-to-72-hour window, we take more severe action and start in-depth communication with the local emergency management team and first responders," Murray said. "We start communication as much as possible and deploy our community resource centers where citizens can go for resources from water, light snacks and even charging stations for devices."
Although NV Energy is still legally fighting a January finding by City of Reno investigators that its equipment was the cause of the Pinehaven Fire in November 2020 (see CEM No. 1626), the company is using that fire and dozens of others in the 2020-2021 wildfire season as learning opportunities for a more efficient process.
"The goal for our plan is we have to keep learning, and this has to be a community solution, and we have to do our part," Murray said. "These fires are growing quicker, spreading faster and are becoming more difficult to fight. We want to make sure we are doing our part to provide solutions."