November 9, 2017 – The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has adopted dozens of new regulations over the past several years designed to help protect the public from potential fire hazards associated with overhead power-line facilities and nearby aerial communication facilities. The CPUC continued that effort yesterday with a proposal (called a Proposed Decision) in its fire-safety proceeding that adopts new fire-safety regulations, including a new High Fire-Threat District where stricter fire-safety regulations will apply.
Parties to the proceeding (number R.15-05-006) have the opportunity to file comments on the proposal before the CPUC votes on the matter. The first opportunity for the CPUC’s Commissioners to vote on the proposal is at its CPUC’s December 14, 2017, Voting Meeting in San Francisco.
Under the Proposed Decision, the High Fire-Threat District will consist of three areas:
- The Tier 1 High Hazard Zones on the U.S. Forest Service-California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) joint map of Tree Mortality High Hazard Zones
- Tier 2 of the CPUC Fire-Threat Map where there is an elevated risk for utility-associated wildfires
- Tier 3 of the CPUC Fire-Threat Map where there is an extreme risk for utility-associated wildfires
A final draft of the CPUC Fire-Threat Map is currently being reviewed by a team of independent experts and is scheduled to be filed at the CPUC by November 17, 2017. Following review and comments by interested parties, the CPUC is scheduled to adopt the CPUC Fire-Threat Map in early 2018.
The Proposed Decision issued today further adopts the following fire-safety regulations:
- Electric utilities must:
- Prioritize correction of safety hazards based, in part, on whether the safety hazard is located in the High Fire-Threat District.
- Correct non-immediate fire risks in Tier 2 of the High Fire-Threat District within 12 months, and in Tier 3 within 6 months.
- Maintain increased clearances between vegetation and power lines throughout the High Fire-Threat District.
- Maintain more stringent wire-to-wire clearances for new and reconstructed facilities in Tier 3.
- Conduct annual patrol inspections of their overhead distribution facilities in rural areas of Tier 2 and Tier 3.
- Prepare a fire-prevention plan annually if they have overhead facilities in the High Fire-Threat District.
- Electric utilities may disconnect service to customers who refuse to provide access to their property for the removal of trees that pose an immediate threat for contacting a power line.
- Communications infrastructure providers must conduct patrol and detailed inspections of their overhead facilities at specified minimum frequencies in Tier 2 and Tier 3.
The Proposed Decision directs the CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division to confer with CAL FIRE regarding:
- Development of a statewide fire-wind map by CAL FIRE (or under CAL FIRE’s oversight) for the purpose of establishing fire-wind-load regulations for utility infrastructure. While the CPUC Fire-Threat Map uses historical wind data and other information to identify areas where there is an elevated or extreme risk for utility associated wildfires with unprecedented precision, additional information, statistical analysis, modeling, and other work is needed to develop a statewide fire-wind map that accurately identifies the frequency and severity of fire winds at a spatial scale needed for cost-effective fire-wind-load regulations.
- A potential requirement for utilities to correct non-immediate fire risks in Tier 2 within 6 months.
The Proposed Decision is available at http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Efile/G000/M198/K355/198355203.PDF.