Working to lessen the fire danger

Jul 9, 2024 | Mountain Emergency Updates

Southern California Edison continues to work to mitigate the danger of wildfires in its service area.

By Mary-Justine Lanyon

When Shane Massoud, the government relations manager for Southern California Edison, spoke to the Inland Empire Fire Safe Alliance, he brought with him a vital message.

“The company has been dedicated,” Massoud said, “particularly in the last five years to hardening the grid, making sure the infrastructure can deliver power safely and reliably but also do our part to eliminate possible ignition from our equipment.”

SCE has taken several approaches to hardening the grid and the company’s infrastructure. They have been replacing bare wire with covered conductor; about 4,400 miles of covered conductor have been installed since 2018 – 931 circuit miles have been installed in San Bernardino County. They are installing a mix of composite poles and wooden poles with a fire-resistant wrap. They have installed fast-acting fuses to interrupt electric current more quickly when there is an electrical fault. In addition, they have installed remote-controlled devices that will isolate portions of circuits.

SCE has also been enhancing its operational practices by inspecting overhead equipment in high fire risk areas both from the ground and by the use of drones. They are inspecting, trimming and removing trees to prevent vegetation from coming into contact with electrical equipment and potentially sparking a fire. And, during weather that could lead to a fire – for example during high wind events – SCE implements PSPS (public safety power shutoffs). Those PSPS are, Massoud said, a “tool of last resort. They can limit the threat of a potential wildfire.”

SCE relies on more than 1,620 weather stations throughout its service area to provide wind speed, humidity and temperature data. The utility uses weather modeling to enhance its weather forecasts and it samples fuel moisture at 15 sites on a biweekly basis to help determine dry fuel conditions. It also has more than 180 cameras in high fire risk areas to monitor wildfire conditions. 

When a PSPS is deemed necessary, SCE has eight community resource vans they can deploy throughout its service area. They provide water, ice vouchers, medical kits and snacks to local residents, who can also charge their cell phones or laptops.

The question was raised about putting lines underground. Covered conductor, Massoud said, costs about $650,000 per circuit mile while underground wiring costs from $2.4 to $5 million for the same mile. “It’s very expensive,” he said. “We want to make sure we spend the customers’ dollars wisely.”

“And isn’t there an issue with maintenance when wires are underground?” Laura Dyberg asked. “Underground wires are a lot more difficult to maintain,” Massoud agreed. “There is no way to quickly identify the problem area as opposed to above-ground wiring.”

His final message to the Inland Empire Fire Safe Alliance: “You will continue to see investment by Southern California Edison in mitigation efforts.”

 

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