Edison Outlines Plan to Brush Back Chance of Wildfires

Southern California Edison officials outlined a plan to mitigate the potential for wildfires in and around La Cañada Flintridge and responded to calls to move power lines underground during a recent community meeting.
Officials also focused on vegetation management at the meeting Monday night at the Lanterman Auditorium. A priority of Edison’s 2019 Wildfire Mitigation Plan, filed on Feb. 6 with the California Public Utilities Commission, is to address and reduce fires caused by utility infrastructure, according to Edison officials quoted on the company’s website.
When LCF resident Ali Fahimi inquired about the possibility of placing power lines underground, an Edison representative said that was a complicated issue with an expensive solution.
Zanku Armenian, the company’s director of public affairs, said a program called Rule 20 is a regulatory framework that sets aside funding for “undergrounding,” but a city would have to apply for assistance for and contribute to the cost of such a project. Residents of the street where lines would be placed underground would also contribute through property taxes spread out over decades, he said.
Armenian added that it takes longer to restore power to underground lines in case of an outage, and that such lines cost about 10 times more than an overhead conductor and drive rates up.
Afterward, Fahimi said that the city needs to “step into the future” and switch to underground lines but that he wasn’t confident it would happen.
“It makes the city more beautiful, it improves property values and stops trees from being cut,” he said. “And it makes it easier on [Edison]. But the initial cost is one no one wants to bite down on.”
Another LCF resident, Kelly McWilliams, asked what Edison was doing to reduce fire threats from outside the city limits, saying she didn’t think there was much risk of fires caused by trees falling on power lines within the city.
“My concern is what’s going to be done 10-20 miles outside of our city,” McWilliams said, adding the disastrous Santa Rosa fire in 2017 and Camp fire in 2018 began outside city limits. “I feel like as long as they’re being cautious with tree trimming in the city, that’s great, but pay attention to what’s outside city limits.”
Fahini and McWilliams were two of just five people at the meeting who did not appear to be city or company officials.
Edison officials acknowledged to The Outlook before the presentation that they had not advertised the meeting — there were no notices on the company’s social media or website — since it was organized by the city. LCF officials put notices on the city’s social media, spoke about the event in City Council meetings and listed it in an electronically distributed report of city activities.
Edison spokeswoman Marissa Castro-Salvati said during the meeting that city officials had requested that the company share information amid customer concerns about managing vegetation — pruning or taking out trees, removing bush, practicing weed abatement and other steps.
Castro-Salvati said the firm has been aggressive in mitigating the potential for fires and has submitted a wildlife plan to the state as required by Senate Bill 901. The plan’s proposals are the first of what will be an annual submission as part of the legislation passed in 2018, and address wildfire changes in the state, Edison officials stated on the firm’s website.
“You’ve probably seen more trucks in your communities right now that are doing inspections of our facilities,” Castro-Salvati said. She said Edison is in the process of installing high-definition cameras and weather stations and hiring meteorologists.
“As most of you know, California’s wildfire risk has really risen,” she said. “It’s now become a year-round fire season for us. We’ve experienced a lot of different fires that have been throughout our state, and eight of the 20 most destructive California wildfires actually have happened since 2015.”
Edison officials said the company trims trees year-round and is preparing to start inspection and trim work in LCF covering different grids in the city. Grid 13, which generally covers an area including the 210 Freeway and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will be addressed first.
“We’ll be starting soon, probably next week, and we will work all the way through December on some of these areas,” said Gerry Avila, an Edison vegetation management senior specialist and utility arborist.
He said inspectors would go to locations to give initial notifications to homeowners, who would receive a notice from a tree contractor when the work is to be done. The work could take a month or more, Avila said.
Utility officials also said the company can resort to tree topping — with a first remedy being a tree replacement from Edison — and, in high-risk fire areas, replacing power lines with a covered conductor or shutting off power during perilous conditions.
Dave Guzman, Edison’s vegetation management and forestry manager, said 900,000 trees are inspected annually and 700,000 are pruned every year. He said 400,000 of the pruned trees are considered to be in high-risk areas.
In December 2017, the Public Utilities Commission issued regulations to increase fire safety that led to areas receiving a Tier 1, 2 or 3 designation, Guzman said. Tier 3 is the most extreme.
“In addition to the 2017 guidelines, they also changed tree-trimming guidelines and made a recommendation of a minimum 12 feet [between a tree and power line] at the time of trim,” Guzman said.
Informational sheets that were available at the meeting stated that homeowners, or tree trimmers, who seek to prune or remove dead or dying trees next to power lines must notify Edison before doing so.
On a case-by-case basis, Edison may remove trees that are dead, dying, diseased or leaning toward power lines. According to the utility company, trees growing on or directly adjacent to a transmission right of way may also be removed during routine maintenance.
To report vegetation concerns, customers can call Edison at (800) 655-4555.

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