.PG&E Gets Too Good at Power Shutoff for Fire Safety

PG&E, a company that’s taken a ton of flak from North Bay residents and lawmakers in this age of high wildfire, has found a new way to piss off residents in the lower Russian River area — this time, with overly sensitive fire prevention tech that’s been tripping up and triggering long power outages. It reportedly happened a bunch during the 2023 fire season, too, but PG&E officials promised last fall that they had “retooled the wildfire prevention system’s sensitivity for the 2024 season, which should lead to fewer unnecessary outages,” according to the Press Democrat. More from the PD: “A PG&E program intended to prevent fire as a result of downed power lines is causing headaches in Guerneville and lower Russian River communities. Known as Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS), the program automatically shuts off power lines within one-tenth of a second in case of a hazard, such as a felled tree or an animal hitting a power line. The system relies on a fault detection algorithm that shuts down the power line like a breaker trips in a home, said Dave Canny, vice president of PG&E’s North Coast Division. ‘It protects the rest of the system and mitigates ignition, arcing or sparking,’ he said. But Guerneville residents are growing weary of the program. Large portions of the Russian River town were without power Friday, May 31, and Saturday, June 1, because the EPSS system had been triggered. Those power shutdowns began around 10 a.m. and lasted until 12:48 p.m. Megan McFarland, PG&E marketing and communication specialist, said the company noticed the settings on the line servicing Guerneville were too sensitive and have since adjusted the levels. ‘PG&E should send out a mailer every May that they are turning up the sensitivity on the EPSS lines and tell people what they should expect,’ said Joshua Leone, a reporter for Watch Duty, a nonprofit organization that alerts and informs residents electronically during wildfires. The wildfire prevention system was piloted in July 2021 on the heels of the Dixie Fire and officially rolled out in 2022. The system turns on every May and typically remains on through November. … EPSS outages can last minutes to hours, depending on how long it takes for PG&E repairmen to find the cause of the outage. The lines can’t be re-energized until a PG&E team patrols every mile of line, by foot, car or helicopter, to clear hazards. Canny said at least one outage prevented a fire in 2023, but admitted that 60% of the outages were tripped by undetermined causes. That rate of ‘nuisance tripping’ was unusually high, he said.” (Source: Press Democrat)


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