San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) has been lobbying the Public Utilities Commission for permission to cut off power to much of San Diego County during periods of strong winds. They look at this as a less expensive alternative to making their powerlines more resistant to causing fires.
Here is an excerpt from an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune by Onell R. Soto.
After months of listening to telephone companies, water districts and disability-rights advocates criticize a plan to cut off power to parts of San Diego County during fire weather, state regulators are set to hear from the public.
The California Public Utilities Commission will consider opinions from residents this week on whether to approve a controversial proposal that San Diego Gas & Electric says will reduce the risk of fire when the weather is dry and windy.
“Everybody’s worried about it,” said Lisa Darroch, a Jamul mother who is worried about children being in school without power or communication on hot days. “What’s going to happen to our kids?”
Darroch plans to testify at a hearing in Alpine on Tuesday night. A second hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Valley Center
The plan could affect nearly 150,000 people, including residents of Fallbrook, Escondido, Poway, Lakeside, Ramona and Alpine.
Power would be cut when the National Weather Service declares a red-flag warning; humidity is below 21 percent; moisture in dead plants is 10 percent or less and in living plants 75 percent or less; and sustained winds are above 34 mph or are gusting above 54 mph, with sustained winds above 29 mph.
The shut-offs, lasting up to 72 hours, are needed to prevent power lines from arcing in high winds and sparking massive wildfires of the sort that swept through the county in 2003 and 2007, Donovan said.
Opponents have raised a variety of concerns in recent filings with the PUC.
School officials said they would have to cancel classes if they don’t have electricity. Disability advocates said people who rely on power for medical equipment would have health problems.
Water districts warned they would be unable to pump water for firefighters, and recalled how Ramona residents were not allowed back home for a week after the 2007 fires because a crucial pumping station lacked power.
AT&T said cell phone and land-line service would be lost after a few hours – even outside the affected area – as backup batteries run out of juice. And cable companies said people would lose a link to the outside world, television and the Internet.
All of them said they would face increased costs as a result of SDG&E’s proposals, whether from spending millions of dollars for diesel-powered generators or, in the case of schools, losing state funds because students miss class.
“I have never seen quite as broad a coalition uniformly opposed to an SDG&E proposal,” said Michael Shames, executive director of UCAN, the nonprofit Utility Consumers’ Action Network.
Shames said he’s against the plan because it might increase fire risk rather than reduce it. People are more likely to use candles, cook with fire and mess up while using a generator if they don’t have power, he said.