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SDG&E Warns Of Possible Outages To Prevent Wildfires In Dry, Gusty Weather

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San Diego Gas & Electric announced this week that the utility may shut off power in certain parts of San Diego County due to forecasted weather conditions that could pose a danger to power lines and increase the risk of wildfires.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Santa Ana winds are expected to start blowing through San Diego County beginning tomorrow. The national weather service has issued a red flag warning for San Diego County beginning tomorrow at noon and it will last through Friday evening at six that has prompted SDG and E to inform about 30,000 customers primarily in the East County that they might lose their power during the weather event. Joining us to talk about this is Brian Diego Steeno SDG and E's, director of fire science and climate adaptation. Brian, welcome.

Speaker 2: 00:31 Thank you so much for having me.

Speaker 1: 00:33 How are you all deciding which communities to shed power often?

Speaker 2: 00:37 Well, of course we're working very closely in coordinating with the national weather service and the fire agencies to identify those areas where we're expecting some of the strongest winds with this upcoming wind event. And as you mentioned, a lot of is out in the Eastern portions of San Diego County up in our mountains.

Speaker 1: 00:53 And will this be the first time that utility has preemptively cut power to its customers?

Speaker 2: 00:59 No, it's not. This is a program that we've had in place for almost a decade here in San Diego. Um, and last November we had a major Santa Ana wind event where there were public safety power shutoffs across the region. But this is the first significant weather event, uh, or significant Santa Ana wind event I should say, that we've had here in 2019. Um, so we are, you know, monitoring conditions very closely as we approached this a red flag warning.

Speaker 1: 01:29 And I understand that if the power is out for more than 24 hours, SDG has plans to open community resource centers, uh, where will those be and what will they provide for people?

Speaker 2: 01:40 Well, community resource centers open up in impacted communities and important thing for us to understand is just because, uh, we've notified about 30,000 customers that live in the back country. That does not mean definitively that these areas will impact. We'll experience a public safety power shutoff. Uh, part of the reason we're notifying these folks is because we do expect, um, gusty winds in their community, critical fire weather conditions. And we really encourage these folks to start being prepared for critical fire weather conditions, but we'll be monitoring very closely and we'll only be implementing a public safety power shutoff if we start really seeing extreme weather conditions, um, develop in these communities. So just because people were notified doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to experience a public safety power shut off, but they should be ready if they do experience the public safety power shutoff, we will be opening these community resource centers. Um, and it gives folks an opportunity and a place to go to get ice light snacks, information on the outage, a place to power your cell phone, um, get water and other resources to help, um, get through this weather event.

Speaker 1: 02:57 Now, the Supreme rejected SDG and E's appeal this week to pass the cost of the Dudley 2007 wildfires onto two rate payers. Is this a potential power shutoff, a direct consequence of that action?

Speaker 2: 03:11 No, not at all. The public safety power shutoff program has been in place, um, for a decade. Um, we've used this as a tool to keep community safe. Um, all the way back. I mean the, the first time we implemented it was, um, 2013 so there's, it's not related at all.

Speaker 1: 03:29 And SDG and E notified customers that could lose power on Tuesday about that possibility. Um, how will notifications be made going forward if in fact power will be cut?

Speaker 2: 03:40 Well, we'll continue to coordinate with the weather service, analyze the latest weather forecast that we're developing internally from our, our team of five meteorologists. Um, and when we start, uh, identifying areas that we expect strong winds, we're going to continue to communicate with those customers, give them updates as we approach the event and as confidence builds that we may need to use this tool but we can't encourage, um, community members enough, especially those in the foothills and the mountains that we are expecting. Critical fire weather conditions. There is a red flag warning coming and this is time for us to be ready and diligent and make sure that we're prepared in case any fires occur on the landscape.

Speaker 1: 04:22 And you know, if, and we certainly hope not, but if a fire was to get out of control in an area where SDG any has high voltage overhead transmission lines, could more of San Diego County residents have their power cut?

Speaker 2: 04:34 It's, it's unlikely. But if we do experience fires, we're always keeping the safety of the community and the safety of our firefighters as a, as a top priority. And there are times that fire agencies have asked us to de-energize transmission lines to help them with actually fighting the fire. Um, so if that were to come up, um, we will do whatever we have to do operationally to keep the firefighters, um, in the community safe.

Speaker 1: 05:07 And anytime we have a high wind event, it really reignites the conversation around burying power lines. Uh, is that something that's feasible?

Speaker 2: 05:16 It's, it's feasible in certain areas and it's a tool that's used, especially in areas that experienced some of the strongest winds. Over 60% of the electric system in San Diego is currently underground. And we continue to use all the weather information. We have to prioritize additional areas where undergrounding makes sense.

Speaker 1: 05:38 I've been speaking with Brian DST, no, SDG and E's, director of fire science and climate adaptation. Brian, thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 2: 05:45 Well, and thank you so much for having me and the opportunity to, to share with the community. We all really need to be prepared coming into this red flag warning.

Speaker 1: 05:53 And with that, anyone who's curious can find a list of all the communities and neighborhoods that could be affected along with a map at our website,

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.