LOS ANGELES COUNTY — As we head into the peak months of wildfire season, Southern California Edison crews are busy making upgrades to equipment around SoCal in an effort to shore up grids and increase safety during high winds and wildfires.
Terry Ohanian, director of grid hardening at SCE, says crews can be spotted all over LA County adding special insulated wire that is particularly effective in reducing the likelihood that bare wires will touch anything that could spark a fire. The insulation layer looks like a very thick protective barrier wrapped around the core wires.
“It has an insulation layer around the conductor and what this is, it prevents unintentional contact from becoming an ignition,” Ohanian explained. “So let's say if a tree branch or a palm frond were to make contact with the wire, it could ignite, fall to the ground and start a fire. But with the insulation layer around the wire, that is likely not going to happen.”
SoCal Edison has good reason to be concerned about unintentionally sparking a fire. In late 2018, equipment belonging to SCE was allegedly responsible for setting off the Woolsey fire, a devastating wildfire that tore through Los Angeles and Ventura counties. After an extensive review by the California Department of Justice, the company never faced any criminal charges. The DOJ cited “insufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt” that the utility company was to blame.
Beyond protection from wildlife, Ohanian says these insulated wires also reduce the risk of PSPS – public safety power shutoffs.
“The power being out is not something that we want to do, and so by installing this insulated wire, we not only reduce the ignition risk and wildfire risk, but we also help reduce the risk of PSPS,” Ohanian said.
SCE says they have identified more than 60 cities and unincorporated communities – like Agua Dulce and parts of Malibu – that are high fire risk areas. After the work that’s already been done, those areas will see a sharp reduction in the use of PSPS. In fact, SCE says 81,000 customers have already been removed from PSPS consideration for the 2021 fire season.
And that is welcomed news for some residents in Malibu’s Point Dume area, where both wildfires and PSPS are a common occurrence. Ryan Peck, who works at D’Amore’s Pizza, says he is relieved to know SCE is working on strengthening the grid in his area.
“I remember at this time last year, we got shut down because of the wind, and it was very frustrating. Any progress toward fixing the shutoffs, I’m very excited about. It’s A-OK with me,” said Peck, enthusiastically giving a thumbs up.
Ohanian says he and the crews at SCE understand how important this particular work is to keep the community safe.
“It’s important for our customers, for the community…watching these line men work, they’re professionals, doing what they do, day in and day out to make things better for the community. It’s really a source of pride.”
To find out if your area has been removed from SCE PSPS consideration, visit sce.com/wildfire/psps