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In a late Friday afternoon email to customers, PG&E provided an explanation for the increased power outages occurring in the foothills these past few weeks. A new feature called “fast trip” is designed to “quickly and automatically turn off power if an object strikes a line or there is an issue with the equipment.” The shutoff affects an entire circuit, resulting in several hundred or more customers losing power for hours.

The utility company states in their email, “These recent updates make the electric system safer, and further reduce wildfire risks, but may result in more frequent, longer-duration power outages.”

Designed to be used in late summer and fall to prevent new fire starts due to power lines or equipment failure, the feature requires crews to inspect the entire power line circuit and perform any necessary repairs before power is restored. Low-flying helicopters are also used to inspect the power lines before power is restored.

These outages are distinct from a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) where customers are notified ahead of time of the outage. “These fast trip outages are the result of operational safety settings where PG&E is adjusting the way the grid responds to an object striking the line or other equipment issue. We are taking these actions due to the extreme drought conditions and increased wildfire risk,” the email states.

The utility did not indicate if their outage map will distinguish between fast trip outages and other, unplanned outages.