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SDG&E Talks Power Safety Shut Offs In Face Of Red Flag Warnings

Power lines at an SDG&E facility in North Park are seen here on Sept. 26, 2017.
Andrew Bowen
Power lines at an SDG&E facility in North Park are seen here on Sept. 26, 2017.

Fire crews all across the county remain on high alert as another round of Santa Ana winds are moving in.

San Diego Gas & Electric is also preparing for more possible outages as a precaution. Company spokesman Wes Jones said the company evaluates several factors before making the decision to pull the plug.

“So we're looking at a number of criteria wind speeds, humidity levels, dry fuel, vegetation in the area that may be threatened,” he said.

To help the company make the call on when to shut off power, SDG&E has nearly 200 mini weather stations set up mostly in the backcountry. Jones said SDG&E gets real-time data from those weather stations every 10 mins.

“That goes to our meteorology team and they're really helping grid operators make that tough decision if needed as a last resort,” he said.

While the power safety shut-offs might be controversial for some, SDG&E has its reasons. During a high-wind event, for example, something could come in contact with power lines, sparks could fall and a fire could start

“Anything that can come into contact with a line that is energized posses a threat,” Jones said.

Once the decision is made to shut off the power, getting it back on isn't as easy as flipping a switch.

“The process of restoring power can be lengthy for a number of reasons,” Jones said. “The No.1 thing we're trying to do it restore it safely and as quickly as possible.

VIDEO: SDG&E Talks Power Safety Shut Offs In Face Of Red Flag Warnings

In some areas, however, are hard for SDG&E to get to on foot and the crews need to get do a visual inspection of the line to make it clear of any debris that may damage the line, he said.

In rural areas of East County that often means using a helicopter to inspect the lines and the utility will only check its lines when it's not dark.

“We have to wait for winds to die down so we can fly down that entire circuit line and make sure it's safe to return power,” Jones said. “And that's a four-to-eight-hour process and we need daylight to do it.”

Still, the utility recognizes the shutoffs are difficult for its customers.

“We understand that this is disruptive to daily life there's no question about it,” Jones said. “But at the same time if something happens it's a significant problem for the region and a very dangerous situation”

The idea for the shutoffs came after SDG&E power lines started fires in October 2007 that killed two people, destroyed 1,300 homes and caused hundreds of millions in damages.

“So coming out of that event in 2007 the company really took a real strong look at what needs to get done so that never happens again,” Jones said. “There wasn't necessarily this process looking at turning off power for safety.”

SDG&E says it tries to notify customers two or three days before a power safety shut off. More shutoffs could be coming as a red flag warning will be in effect from late Tuesday through Thursday.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a total reform to all power shutoff rules and regulations. He said customers should not be charged for "public safety power shutoffs"

SDG&E Talks Power Safety Shut Offs In Face Of Red Flag Warnings
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.