SDG&E clarifies status of fire-prevention program

Media Contact:
Stephanie Donovan

San Diego Gas & Electric

(877) 866-2066


        SAN DIEGO, Oct. 30, 2008 – San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) today announced that it has suspended until next year its plan to shut off power proactively during extreme weather conditions in some backcountry communities.  In response to a request from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), SDG&E will file an application later this year outlining the proactive shut-off part of the utility’s fire-prevention program for review by the state agency. 

        While the CPUC said earlier this week that “there is no CPUC rule or regulation that would override [SDG&E’s] professional judgment” to shut off power proactively during such conditions, the agency still would like to review the plan in greater detail.

        The now-suspended shut-off plan is only one part of SDG&E’s multi-faceted program to increase community safety and reduce the likelihood of utility facilities being involved in wildfires.  SDG&E is continuing to implement the following fire-prevention measures:

        • Replacing many wood poles with steel poles, increasing the distance between the power lines and using heavier wire on part of the transmission system in rural communities;
        • Expanding aerial and ground inspections of distribution and transmission lines;
        • During dry and windy weather, disabling electrical switches that are designed to restore the power automatically after an outage;   
        • And, proactively staging operations personnel in backcountry areas for quicker response during extreme weather conditions.

        SDG&E personnel have spent considerable time reviewing the utility’s fire-preparedness measures and current operational procedures to determine what else could be done to try to reduce the fire risk. 

        Before activating the shut-off plan earlier this month, SDG&E officials solicited input from state and local fire-fighting and law-enforcement agencies, the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services, elected officials, community groups and affected customers.  SDG&E also has met individually with local water districts and telecommunication companies and contacted hundreds of customers with special medical needs to listen to their concerns and offer assistance.  SDG&E staff also took part in community meetings to explain the program. 

        “Our first choice always is to keep the power on for customers, but the kind of extreme weather and fire conditions we face today in Southern California call for a more proactive approach to fire prevention than in years past,” said Debra L. Reed, president and chief executive officer of SDG&E.

        “Turning off the power has been proposed only for very rare, extreme weather conditions that can lead to catastrophic fires,” said Reed.  “We’ve already taken a number of actions to strengthen our electrical system in preparation for this year’s fire season and for the future.  We also are committed to continuing a constructive dialogue with affected customers and community leaders in the most fire-prone parts of our service territory on how we can better work together to improve fire safety.”

        The proposed shut-off plan would have been activated only during extreme “red flag” weather conditions, potentially affecting some 45,000 SDG&E customers, most of whom live in the backcountry of San Diego.  

        “We want to keep the momentum going countywide on fire preparedness,” said Reed.  “We believe the shut-off plan is a prudent and necessary part of our overall fire-prevention program and we hope to have it in place for next year’s fire season, following CPUC review.  While we recognize that power outages are an inconvenience, we will use this additional time to continue to work with our customers in getting prepared to help minimize any adverse impact on them.”

        SDG&E is a regulated public utility that provides safe, reliable energy service to 3.4 million consumers through 1.4 million electric meters and more than 840,000 natural gas meters in San Diego and southern Orange counties.  The utility’s area spans 4,100 square miles.  Exceptional customer service is a priority of SDG&E as it seeks to enhance the region’s quality of life.  SDG&E is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE), a Fortune 500 energy services holding company based in San Diego.

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