California State Auditor Reports on Electric Utility and Regulatory Agency Failures Related to CA Wildfires

The California State Auditor (CSA) recently issued a report excoriating the Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), especially PG&E, as well as the state’s “Energy Safety Office,” for failures related to wildfires and to Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).

The report is posted at https://www.auditor.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2021-117.pdf

Among other findings, the report states the following.

Page 7: Of the acreage burned by California wildfires between 2016 and 2020, 19% were burned due to fires caused by utilities. That percentage will likely increase when the second-largest fire in California history, caused by a utility in 2021, is included in an updated computation.

Page 17: The report found that utility lines in high fire areas bare (without insulation) are at greater risk of starting a fire. Nearly 40,000 miles of power lines, representing 54% of all distribution power lines in high fire areas, are bare. 80% of PG&E’s lines in high hazard zones are bare, compared to 23% of SCE’s and 11% of SDG&E’s.

Page 31: The three largest utilities have altered settings on their equipment, including circuit breakers and reclosers, resulting in unplanned power outages (unplanned outages) throughout the State.

Page 41: The Energy Safety Office approved mitigation plans despite identifying deficiencies in how utilities planned to prioritize mitigation activities. Subsequent external reviews established that these planning deficiencies were followed by a lack of mitigation efforts in areas of highest risk of wildfire.

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