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Authorities take steps to remedy public safety power shutoffs

Posted at 5:33 PM, Dec 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-10 20:34:24-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif — It's been over a month since local electric companies powered down millions of California residents in an effort to prevent wildfires. Now that the fire risk has temporarily died down, officials are talking about what can be done to prevent future shutoffs.

23ABC learned today that fire-resistant power lines will be built in some areas affected by the public safety power shutoffs. But there's still a lot of discussions to be had as far as how to remedy the mass outages that made a lot of people unhappy.

"There's just some frustration with both SoCal Edison and PG&E about the way these things rollout, the widespread nature," said Chief deputy Dean Boller of the Kern County Fire Department.

And that's why officials are looking for a way to fix a big problem facing PG&E and SoCal Edison. Starting in October, millions of people throughout the state were powered down in order to minimize wildfire risk when winds kicked up. The mass outage unsurprisingly upset many, like when an unplanned outage forced several Tehachapi businesses to close.

"Edison has been giving 48 hours notification to locations. They gave zero notice to this area. No one was able to prepare for that," said Key Budge, the community relations specialist for the City of Tehachapi in October.

But now there's some good news. This week Chief Deputy Boller says SoCal Edison will be upgrading their infrastructure and equipment in the Tehachapi and nearby Bear Valley area.

"So hopefully in the future, we won't have as many public safety power shutdowns," Boller said.

The upgrades include insulated wiring and fiberglass poles which are fire-resistant. Boller presented a report to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday detailing the next steps that Kern's Office of emergency management will take. During the meeting he mentioned that the state is giving $586,000 to the county.

"It is an allocation to help build resiliency and to provide preparedness for the communities that most face public safety power shutoffs," he said.

Local emergency management authorities will meet face to face with PG&E officials on Wednesday to discuss the community's concerns and frustrations about the shutoffs. Thankfully, Boller says, with recent wet weather, they'll have some time to discuss a plan before the next threat of a public safety power shutoff.

"We should be good for a while, we can catch our collective breath. Keep working on building a plan for resiliency in our communities," Boller said.

23ABC asked PG&E if they're upgrading any of their equipment in Kern County. They said they're taking many steps to reduce wildfire risk in all of their service areas, but they could not confirm whether or not more resilient infrastructure is being installed in the areas of Kern County affected by the shutoffs.