Map tracks power shut-off

Residents in high-risk fire areas targeted to lose electrical power in severe weather conditions have a new tool to track the likelihood that they will be left in the dark.

San Diego Gas & Electric has a new interactive map on its Web site (www.sdge.com) that will give residents a real-time look at the five “trigger conditions” in their area that must be met before SDG&E would pull the plug under its Emergency Power Shut-off plan.

When residents click on ‘interactive map’ and enter an address, they will learn which weather station covers their area and what the conditions are at that moment.

“The information is updated every two minutes so they can follow exactly what is happening in real time so a shut-off would not be sprung on them as a surprise,” said SDG&E spokesman Stephanie Donovan. “Also, we will notify them six hours ahead of a possible shut-off and again two or three hours before. People will have time to decide if they should stay or go.”

The Web site displays the following information for an address in the ‘potential outage areas,’ which includes Ramona:

• The overall “trigger status.” If it is normal, the accompanying box is green, changing to yellow or red, if conditions warrant.

• The “non-living” fuel moisture level in sticks, twigs and leaves. If the displayed number is less than 10 percent, the box will turn red.

• The “living” fuel moisture level in living plants. If it is 75 percent or less, as determined by CalFire and the U.S. Forest Service, the box will turn red. If the number is only slightly higher, the box will be yellow.

• The relative humidity as reported by the National Weather Service. A reading of 20 percent or less will make the box red.

• The wind speed. To trigger a shut-off, there must be a sustained speed of at least 30 mph or gusts of 48 mph or more accompanied by a sustained speed of 25 mph.

Finally, if all boxes are red and the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning, power would be shut off to all residences and businesses in that weather station area under SDG&E’s plan. However, the California Public Utilities Commission has yet to rule on the plan and opponents will file a legal motion this week to stop SDG&E from implementing it on Sept. 1.

The potential outage areas include 60,000 SDG&E customers, or about 150,000 individuals; however, the utility estimates that only 8,000 to 10,000 customers would lose their power in a single “event.”

And the areas that have been targeted as high-risk fire areas are subject to change as SDG&E completes projects “that will improve overall system reliability,” Donovan said. For example, Borrego Spring is no longer included in the current map, “and by September, we hope to have eliminated a big chunk of Valley Center and Poway,” she said.

As part of its Community Fire Safety Program, SDG&E has replaced more than 700 wooden telephone poles with fire-resistant steel ones and has increased inspection of power lines. The utility has also expanded tree trimming and brush maintenance to reduce the risk of fire.  

Donovan pointed out that loss of power during wildfires is not uncommon. In the 2003 Cedar fire, there were 108,000 outages, and in the 2007 fires, there were 180,000, with an average duration of 40 hours for backcountry residents.

“We’re very proud of our reliability record,” Donovan said. “In California we have the best reliability of all major investor-owned utilities. In a normal year, we see about 5,000 outages.”

Two-thirds are planned—such as power being cut off to change the poles.

“The rest are unplanned, such as a car hitting a power pole, a lightning strike or a Mylar balloon getting tangled in a power line,” said Donovan.

Under the shut-off plan, outages would be expected to occur only once or twice a year “and only as a last resort,” she said. The utility estimates that a planned outage could last from 12 to 72 hours.   

   
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