Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California is not the only power company with plans to turn off the electricity to their customers. San Diego Gas and Electric said they may suspend electrical service to about 30,000 addresses during the wind event on Thursday and Friday of this week. Thinking that their power line infrastructure may not be robust enough to withstand the wind, they want to reduce their liability by de-energizing the power lines, rather than fully hardening their electrical distribution system.
SDG&E was one of the pioneers in turning off the power to their customers when the wind blows and has been doing it for years. They floated the idea in July, 2009 after their power lines started three massive fires in 2007 , the Witch Creek, Guejito, and Rice Canyon Fires, that burned more than 198,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,500 homes, injured 40 firefighters, and caused two deaths. The company figured up to 150,000 people could be affected by a proactive power outage in 2009.
SDG&E has been trying for the last 7 years to get their customers to pay $379 million the company incurred in claims from the deadly 2007 fires. They took litigation all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled against them on October 7, 2019. After the verdict the company wrote in a news release, “SDG&E has shown that the fires occurred due to circumstances beyond our control, but nevertheless the application to spread the costs through rates was denied.”
To be fair, SDG&E has taken steps to reduce the chances their power lines will start a fire during strong winds, such as replacing some wooden poles with metal poles. They have also put systems in place to deal with a fire before and after it starts, including making a large firefighting helicopter available beginning in 2010, hiring contract firefighters during extreme fire weather, and installing more than 100 weather stations on their power lines around Southern California.