The city controller released a report Wednesday that outlines recommendations for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to reduce the risk of wildfires that could be caused by the utility’s power lines.
“The rash of destructive wildfires across California is posing new challenges for the DWP and other power utilities across the state,” Controller Ron Galperin said. “Our local public utility can to do more to prevent these catastrophic events, which will improve the safety and reliability of the power system as a whole.”
A major point of concern, according to the report, is a current backlog of more than 1,000 DWP fire safety maintenance orders.
The report stated that 15% of the DWP’s service territory is within fire zones that are mapped by the California Public Utilities Commission, and most of its utility poles are wooden.
The report, titled “It Only Takes a Spark: Enhancing LADWP’s Wildfire Prevention Strategy,” includes an interactive map that shows areas at highest risk.
“While DWP has tried to keep pace with maintenance needs in these zones, these backlogs still do exist,” Galperin said.
According to DWP, the utility spent the last six months working with the controller’s staff to discuss its Draft Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which will be presented to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners on Dec. 10.
DWP reported that it replaced more than 3,700 power poles, over 10,000 crossarms and about 1,200 transformers in 2018, all of which exceeded its goals for the year.
“The Los Angeles Fire Department has been working closely with our partners at DWP to assist with their ongoing efforts to mitigate wildfire risk,” LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said. “It’s a process that DWP is firmly committed to and together our agencies will continue that work going forward to protect Angelenos from the threat of wildfire.”
The controller said the wildfire threats and financial concerns have not gone unaddressed by DWP. The utility has taken steps to minimize the possible negative outcomes caused by wildfires, including establishing enhanced design and construction standards and replacing old poles.
Galperin’s report calls for the DWP to eliminate the backlog of work orders and to enhance its inspections in high fire-threat zones and use drone technology to evaluate utility poles and infrared cameras to detect potential equipment failures. The report also calls for using better technology, even artificial intelligence, and to use predictive analytics to monitor its system.
Tree management and the creation of a publicly owned insurance plan could provide financial recovery assistance from wildfires, according to the report.
DWP said its crews inspected more than 400,000 trees and trimmed nearly half that number along power lines and other facilities last year.
The controller’s consultants estimate DWP could suffer an average of $42 million losses each year if it doesn’t take an aggressive approach to its wildfire management practices. Galperin said his office did not assess what the cost to expedite the work orders for fire safety would be.
“I believe it is vital that we take a good look at our own operations and how to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to prevent fires,” Galperin said. “You can take every precaution imaginable, but you’re still going to have risks.”
DWP’s infrastructure spans three states, California, Nevada and Utah, with high-voltage power lines and low-power lines that deliver power to residences and businesses to 1.5 million ratepayers.
The report comes after several fires this year in the Southland that burned thousands of acres and rolling blackouts initiated by Pacific Gas and Electric in northern California that affected millions of its customers in October.
During the recent Saddleridge and Getty fires, DWP said it turned off “automatic reclosers” on its power distribution lines to ensure a power line that experienced a disruption would not automatically re-energize, substantially minimizing the potential for fire ignition.
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