What is a Public Safety Power Shutoff?
In order to keep communities safe and reduce the chance of a fire, SDG&E may need to turn off power during extreme weather conditions. This is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff. This precautionary measure is used as a last resort by utilities throughout California.
If you shut off my power, how long will it be out?
If power is shut off, it will remain out as long as the threat to our system and public safety continues –that is, as long as winds are creating a safety issue near and around our electric infrastructure. When the winds are reduced for a sustained time, our crews will then patrol the lines to check for system damage from wind-blown debris or any other problems before the power is turned on. Before we can restore power, crews must patrol lines to assess whether there is any damage. It is difficult to predict how long a patrol might take, given the varied length of each power line, the terrain and whether aerial patrols are required. Some circuits are in rural, mountainous areas that require a helicopter to patrol. In those cases, wind speeds need to be below 30 mph for the helicopter to fly safely.
The power lines in my neighborhood are underground. Will I still be impacted by a power shutoff?
SDG&E’s electric grid is interconnected – one neighborhood that is undergrounded might be fed from electric facilities that are above ground. We take our responsibility to safely operate our system very seriously. If weather conditions are causing a safety hazard that threatens the integrity of our system, SDG&E will turn off power on a circuit.
What is the process for restoring power?
It’s important to remember that improved weather conditions are not the only factor that determines whether a line is safe to re-energize. Restoring power to customers can be a long process. First, we need to record reduced wind speeds for a sustained period (under 30 mph), then allow 4-8 hours of daylight for SDG&E field crews to patrol the line and to deem it safe to re-energize. When patrolling, crews are looking for safety hazards like downed lines, debris or tree branches caught on the line, broken hardware or issues related to communication wires. If there is any damage to the power lines or poles, repairs must be made first before power can be restored.
Can SDG&E customers file claims for spoiled food because SDG&E implemented public safety power shutoffs?
SDG&E processes claims according to rules set by the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates how we operate. Per that process, SDG&E is not liable for circumstances beyond our control, including weather conditions that lead to safety power shutoffs. SDG&E has a legal obligation to abide by tariffs, or rules, that prevent payment for damages, such as food spoilage.
However, if a customer feels that we are at fault for their loss, they may file a claim. SDG&E investigates all claims in an objective and professional manner. Each claim is evaluated based on its own merits and the outcome of our investigation. We require specific documentation, such as sales receipts and accounting records, to support and verify any alleged loss.
Once a claim is received, SDG&E will respond to start an investigation and request additional information, if necessary. Claim forms can be found at https://www.sdge.com/residential/customer-service/assistance-help/claims.
How do I receive notifications?
Everyone is encouraged to sign up to receive alerts from SDG&E via phone, text messages or emails at sdge.com/notifications so they can stay up to date on potential safety power shutoffs. If you have a loved one living in an area that could potentially be affected and you are not an SDG&E account holder, you can sign up for notifications by ZIP code.
When will you shut off my power?
Since weather conditions are fluid and dynamic, we are not able to provide a specific time estimate as to when power may be turned off. Our plan is to provide customers notifications within 48 hours, 24 hours, and again 1-4 hours (if possible) before power is turned off.
How do you make the decision to turn off power?
Public safety power shutoffs are not something that we take lightly. It’s a last resort to protect our community from wildfires. We take into account a variety of factors before making the decision to turn off power to prevent fires. These factors include:
- Fire conditions: Red Flag Warnings, Fire Potential Index, Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index
- Weather Conditions: temperature, humidity and wind gusts (we have 190 weather stations)
- Observation from the Field: flying debris, tree damage, impacts to power lines
- Wildfire activity in the region
- Availability of firefighting resources
- Reports from emergency responders
Santa Ana winds are nothing new. Why can’t you build a stronger power system to withstand high winds?
Over the past decade, SDG&E has made significant improvements to its electric grid when it comes to wildfire preparedness, but when dangerous fire conditions are present, it is hard to prevent flying debris, such as a tarp or a palm frond from whipping through hurricane-force wind gusts directly into power lines and sparking a fire.
Red Flag Warning weather conditions create significant risks for catastrophic wildfires and the difficult decision to turn off power is done as a safety precaution to eliminate a potential ignition source.
In the past you have deployed a backup generator for downtown Julian. Will you do that again?
Yes. A backup generator was delivered to downtown Julian on Oct. 23 and will be used as needed during this weather event to provide backup power to customers in the area.
Local elected officials have said that SDG&E endangers elderly customers and those with special medical needs when it turns off power during extreme weather events. What is your response to that?
The safety of vulnerable populations is top of mind for us. And we make extra efforts to make sure these customers are informed ahead of time that their power may be turned off so they can take action to be prepared.
We use an automated system to call each impacted customer. If a Medical Baseline customer is not reached via an automated call, a list of customers is generated so that a live call can be made by an SDG&E representative. If a live representative cannot reach the customer, then we personally visit the customer’s home to ensure they receive our message.
We ask these customers to evaluate the safety of their situation and have an emergency plan ready in case of an outage. If the customer has a backup generator, we encourage them to perform a safety check and make sure the generator has enough fuel to last for a few days. More generator safety tips can be found at sdge.com/generator.
Customers should keep emergency numbers on hand and are asked to check with local authorities regarding available resources. We advise all customers to call 911 immediately if a family member experiences a medical emergency.
I have a solar system and backup batteries. Will I still lose power during a Public Safety Power Shutoff?
In the event of a power outage (including Public Safety Power Shutoffs), private rooftop solar systems will automatically shut down on their own, unless those systems have the ability to operate when completely separated from SDG&E’s grid (i.e., have “islanding capability”). The automatic shutoff mechanism protects line workers and prevents lines from unexpectedly re-energizing during unsafe conditions.
Customers with solar plus battery storage systems will also likely remain without power in the event of a grid outage, unless they have islanding capabilities and a special controller built into their system. The ability of a combined system to serve a customer’s energy needs during a power outage depends on the size of the solar system, the capability of the battery (size and hours of storage capacity), whether the battery is charged at the time the power outage occurs and the amount of load at the customer’s home or facility.
Customers with rooftop solar systems, and with solar plus battery storage systems, are obligated to follow applicable rules established by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC). These rules are binding on customers commencing at the time the customer requests interconnection of its system with the SDG&E circuit serving the customer. In general, these rules prohibit customers with rooftop solar systems, and with solar plus battery storage systems, from energizing their systems during a power outage. An exception is made for customers that install specialized switches that ensure the customer’s system cannot be reconnected to the SDG&E circuit during a power outage. Customers should refer to their interconnection agreement with SDG&E for details of these rules.
What has SDG&E done and what are you currently doing to reduce Public Safety Power Shutoffs?
Over the past decade we have made significant improvements in our infrastructure, situational awareness and preparedness to reduce the risks associated with operating a complex power grid. These investments also can help reduce the impact and duration of Public Safety Power Shutoffs. Here are some examples of our work:
-Building and deploying one of America’s largest utility-owned weather network that provides notice of extreme fire weather conditions. The system includes 190 weather stations in fire-prone areas that provide readings of wind speed, humidity, and temperature every 10 minutes. (Some of the weather stations have the capability to provide reads every 30 seconds). Our weather information is also shared with fire agencies who use this data when responding to emergencies.
- Creating the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index which provides a ‘rating’ system for the potential of wildfires fueled by these strong seasonal winds, like the ‘category’ system used for hurricanes.
- Developing the Fire Potential Index using the weather data, moisture content of the plants or vegetation, to rate the daily fire potential across our region. That information is then shared with fire agencies, so they have a 7-day heads-up of the fire potential and can staff accordingly.
- In-house real time fire behavior modeling. The Wildfire Risk Reduction Model assesses the areas of highest fire danger before a fire begins. It uses simulations generated from weather conditions, historical fire and outage history, and vegetation data to assess the wildfire risk to every component of our electric system.
- Upgrading over 18,000 wooden power poles with fire-resistant steel poles with thicker, stronger wire – with most located in high-risk, fire-prone areas.
- A robust vegetation management program where 463,000 trees near SDG&E power lines are monitored and each tree is evaluated on an annual cycle
- Contracting year-round firefighting helicopters - Aircrane and Black Hawk. Our UH-60 Blackhawk holds 850 gallons of water, can refill in 45 seconds and can fly up to 140 mph with a full tank. The Erickson Aircrane is the largest water-dropping helitanker in the world, can hold 2,650 gallons of water (equivalent of five fire engines) or fire suppressant and be airborne within 15 minutes. This asset is available to all fire agencies in the county.
- Operationally, as part of the company’s preparedness during fire season, SDG&E has disabled electric switches that would try to re-energize power lines automatically. Instead, after an outage, SDG&E crews will patrol the line to make sure it’s safe to restore power.
- SDG&E has placed 16 high-definition cameras on strategic SDG&E structures located in the highest risk areas. The cameras can be controlled remotely and were designed to improve fire detection and public safety by creating a live-streaming view of San Diego’s most fire-prone areas. Today’s state-of-the-art camera system shows time-lapse scenarios, are enabled with pan-tilt-zoom, infrared technology.
- Enhanced customer communications during emergencies. During emergencies we communicate with customers via text, phone and email, depending on their preferred method. Communications related to power shutoffs for safety are currently communicated in 8 languages.
- Created nine community resource centers that provide device charging and information as well as water and snacks. These resource centers open when power
is has been turned off for safety. Beyond the resource centers, wildfire safety fairs and townhalls are held to obtain feedback from the community.
- SDG&E is proud of its extensive partnerships with over 100 public safety agencies and communities to enhance emergency preparedness and response to benefit SDG&E customers and the region.
- SDG&E formed a Wildfire Safety Community Advisory Council comprised of a group of diverse local leaders from public safety, tribal government, business, nonprofit, and academic organizations who will provide feedback and recommendations on how SDG&E can continue to help protect the region from wildfires.