Solving problems in the
Wildland-Urban Interface

Joseph W. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Phone: 858 228 0089

Power Lines and Wildfire

The October 2019 PG&E PSPS Website Failure

From October 8th to October 12th, 2019, PG&E planned its largest pre-emptive power shutoff event (PSPS) ever attempted by a utility in anticipation of an extreme Diablo wind event. As the event approached, performance of the PG&E website, a primary outlet for PSPS information, degraded and key components ultimately failed. As part of a CPUC proceeding investigating PG&E's October 2019 event, M-bar's expert prepared testimony and briefing for MGRA on the PG&E website failure. Our findings: PG&E's failure was at the root a lack of customer empathy. PG&E did not understand how its customers would use its website during a power shutoff event, and as a result under-estimated required capacity, failed to implement performance testing, and missed a key warning sign that could have helped it avoid the outage.


MGRA Testimony on the October 2019 PG&E Website Failure


MGRA Brief Regarding the October 2019 PG&E Website Failure

Utility Power Shutoff

Since our original involvement in defeating SDG&E’s proposed de-energization plan in 2008 we have provided technical support for MGRA's strong advocacy for requiring cost/benefit and risk/benefit analyses to determine thresholds for the risky wildfire prevention tool of utility power shutoff.
We remain involved at the California Public Utility Commission, advocating for the collection and analysis of customer harm data in order to properly determine utility “PSPS” thresholds.  We also advocate for aggressive remediation efforts to harden and protect utility infrastructure to reduce the need for power shutoff. 
2009 Whitepaper on De-Energization:
2019 CPUC Phase 2 Shutoff Proceeding
  • Quantification of customer and resident harm
  • Criteria for “reasonable” shutoff, including documented infrastructure damage
  • Requiring utilities to track predicted and measured wind speeds for all de-energized circuits

Wildfire Mitigation Plans

We proposed and lobbied through the first utility fire plans regulatory requirements as the technical expert for MGRA.  We continue to advocate for comprehensive utility wildfire mitigation plans, including:
  • - Continuing opportunity for substantive public and party input into utility fire plans
  • - Mandating wind speed as a key metric related to outages, vegetation incidents, and fires
  • - State-wide standards for all California electric utilities
  • - Training and certification for the new utility wildfire plan Independent Evaluators
CPUC 2012 Decision mandating the first wildfire prevention plans (pp. 44)
MGRA Wildfire Mitigation Plan filings:

Utility Liablity Cost Recovery Opposition

In 2009, California electrical utilities PG&E, SCE and SDG&E proposed creating a formal mechanism through which they could recover liability losses from wildland fires from ratepayers regardless of whether or not they were responsible for starting the fires. MGRA and other parties opposed this proposal, noting that it creates a moral hazard by reducing incentive for safe operation.

Power Shutoff NEWS 8 Interview

I discuss utility power shutoff and alternatives with David Gottfriedson of San Diego News 8.