LOS ANGELES - Southern California Edison is forecasting extreme fire weather conditions this year that will affect communities located in high fire risk areas as early as next month.
Last year's wildfires were the worst on record, with dry vegetation and strong winds threatening Southern California communities during an unprecedented fire season.
The utility said it expected the same conditions to continue this year, and would probably include proactive power shutoffs enacted during periods of high wildfire risk.
"We know these outages are painful, especially during a pandemic when many (customers) are working and learning from home," according to the utility. "We use Public Safety Power Shutoffs as a last resort during extreme weather conditions so a spark from our equipment does not start a catastrophic wildfire and to keep communities safe. We are making improvements in how we communicate with (customers) and how we help you prepare for emergencies like PSPS."
The utility said it was working to mitigate wildfire risks and was taking immediate steps to reduce the frequency of shutoffs and minimize the number of impacted customers.
The steps being taken include:
-- Insulated wires and sectionalizing devices being installed in high fire risk areas to make the energy grid more resilient-- meaning fewer, shorter and more targeted PSPS outages.
-- Expanded customer care programs, including rebates for backup batteries and portable generators, with the utility ensuring its most vulnerable customers are enrolled.
-- Improvements to SoCal Edison's notifications process so customers receive timely and accurate information as well as important updates -- before a PSPS event, during the outage and through restoration.
-- The utility will better align with first responders and local and state emergency personnel when shutoffs occur. Downed power lines have been responsible for major wildfires.
In response, SoCal Edison shuts down the power grid in high-risk areas when weather conditions warrant it. "We fully recognize that PSPS events create hardships, especially now when many are working from home," said Tom Rolinski, the utility's fire scientist. Rolinski's wildfire prediction process involves using supercomputers to analyze fuel moisture from the wet and dry brush to accurately determine what areas are likely to be impacted by fire.
Using weather modeling data involving millions of fire simulations each day, he said he aims to help reduce the need for PSPS events.
Real-time simulation modeling helps determine the potential fire impacts from an extreme weather event. The information assists the utility's fire management team to dispatch field crews to monitor weather conditions on the ground in real-time and determine if power can be rerouted.
Such weather modeling allows Socal Edison to see fire potential at least three days in advance of an extreme weather event, Rolinski said.
In preparation for wildfire season, the company continues to implement its annual Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which includes expanded operational practices including enhanced overhead inspections in fire-prone areas.
As for the scene at ground level, Rolinski said vegetation is drier than last year and even drier than what it normally is at this time of year.
"We're at the brink of fire season, but we're not in it yet," he said.