The massive wildfires that plagued California in 2017 have prompted a reconsideration of the state’s vegetation management regulations. Forest fires are a major problem out west, one that is only expected to get worse in the coming years thanks to climate change. Because of this, the California PUC has commissioned a “major rewrite” of the state’s electric utilities’ fire-prevention rules.
How California’s Vegetation Management Regulations Might Change
California regulators want to improve vegetation management protocols throughout the state, with special emphasis on areas deemed to be of higher risk. These discussions actually began over 10 years ago, but now the proposed changes are a top regulatory priority in the state. Some of the changes on the table include:
- Increasing the minimum distance between power lines
- Increasing the minimum distance between power lines and vegetation
- Increasing the number of required power line inspections, particularly in the higher-risk areas
- Decreasing the maximum time utilities are given to make infrastructure repairs
It remains to be seen exactly how the new regulations will be structured and enforced, but the fact that this issue is now top-of-mind for state regulators is extremely encouraging. Although vegetation management is critical for ensuring the integrity of the grid, there are many other storm hardening tactics that are being considered as well.
From an emergency planning perspective, I am confident that the risk of wildfires is getting higher each and every year, and so I applaud the California PUC’s efforts to attempt to mitigate this growing risk. Time will tell how successful the new regulations will be, but the fact that action is being taken is encouraging. Whether it’s vegetation management or something else, we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to efforts to mitigate the impact of global warming.