PG&E Says It’s Better Prepared to Keep Lights On Despite Drought

As drought-stricken California braces for a potentially catastrophic wildfire season, utility giant PG&E Corp. said it’s better positioned to limit the extent of power shutoffs aimed at preventing wires from sparking blazes.

The company, which was forced into bankruptcy in 2019 after its equipment started a string of deadly fires, has installed 600 miles (965 kilometers) of insulated wires or buried power lines in the most fire-prone parts of its system. It’s also added about 980 “sectionalizing” devices that can limit the size of its preemptive blackouts.

PG&E shares rose 0.4% at 9:31 a.m. in New York.

Last year, PG&E was able to cut the size of its planned outages by 60% compared to 2019. The raw number of such shutoffs may climb this year if PG&E adopts new criteria for when to shut off lines, targeting places with tall trees that could topple onto wires, a company spokesman said. But such shutoffs would be small in size, affecting relatively few customers in rural areas.

“Absolutely, from my perspective, we are much better positioned than we ever have been,” Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief risk officer, said in an interview Wednesday. “But also keep in mind that the climate continues to change in a very dramatic way, right before our eyes.”

California’s main firefighting agency has already responded to 3,151 incidents this year, with 17,273 acres burned. Local news reports said one of the fires this month, which burned 50 acres before being contained, may have been started by a tree falling onto a PG&E line. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says the cause remains under investigation.

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