California Tries to Balance Citizen Safety from Fires, Electric Supply Reliability and Renewables Goals


Energy attorneys Seth Hilton and Kate D’Ambrosio contributed an article to POWERGRID International titled “Wildfire impacts and California’s energy supply,” published October 13, 2020. In the article, the authors discuss how California is balancing the need to keep its citizens safe from wildfires with ensuring a reliable electric supply and meeting ambitious renewable energy generation goals.

The authors note the increasing severity and size, nearness to populated areas and threat to California’s power supply of the yearly wildfires. The 2018 Camp fire burned nearly 19,000 structures and killed 85 people, and fires in 2020 have already burned more than four million acres throughout the state.

The Camp fire was blamed on a failed utility transmission line, and the state government and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) took steps to reduce the incidence of such occurrences, using methods that were not without controversy. Utilities implemented 12 shutdowns in October 2019 that affected hundreds of thousands of customers and may have hampered effective communications efforts between emergency responders and communities at immediate risk of wildfire.

Concurrent with CPUC’s requirement that investor-owned utilities subject to its jurisdiction submit wildfire mitigation plans to address the risk of wildfire, California is pressing forward to meet the state’s aggressive renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS). However, as well as for utilities, wildfires present challenges to renewable energy project developers and operators – in meeting their production and revenue targets due to reduced sunlight from smoke.

The authors conclude: “…[N]ow is the time for all stakeholders to collaborate and determine how to best invest in long-term solutions that will help solve the Gordian knot of challenges presented by climate change, increasing wildfire risk, and electricity demand. It is critical that California invest both in hardening its transmission and distribution systems and in substantial additional renewable and other carbon-free generation and energy storage capacity.”

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