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Couch's Corner - July 25, 2019

Who is responsible when the power fails?

 


This week I would like to remind the community about different steps being taken to prepare for the 2019 wildfire season, especially power outages. Even though you may not be near a fire, the possibility exists that power could be shut off where you live due to the interconnectivity of the power grid. Being prepared for power outages is always your best defense.

The California Public Utilities Commission ensures consumers have safe and reliable utility services at reasonable rates. By regulating privately owned utility companies, CPUC protects consumers against fraud and advances environmental protection. Privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad and passenger transportation companies within the State of California fall under the oversight of the CPUC.

Senate Bill 901 requires electrical companies under CPUC's jurisdiction to submit annual wildfire mitigation plans to de-energize power lines during major windstorms. In February, Wildfire Mitigation Plans were submitted by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric, Pacific Corp, Bear Valley Electric Service and Liberty Utilities.

At CPUC's May 30 voting meeting, the commission approved the six proposals containing elements required under SB901. Public Safety Power Shutoffs occur as a last resort measure to prevent deadly utility-caused wildfires during high winds. State regulations require companies to notify vulnerable populations, first responders and the public before such event takes place.

More importantly, let me make clear that the Public Safety Power Shutoff program is not a Kern County program and does not involve the operations of the Kern County Fire Department. Utility companies determine when to conduct their PSPS program.

When a utility company such as Southern California Edison or PG&E implements a Public Safety Power Shutoff, power outages may disrupt communications, prevent the use of medical devices and halt public transportation dependent on electricity. Power outages may close retail businesses, grocery stores, gas stations, ATMs, banks and other services.

In District 4, no power outages related to a PSPS have occurred at this time. Utilities are required to work with the California Office of Emergency Services to integrate warning programs to ensure the public is notified before, during, and after emergencies. Also, utility companies are required to coordinate with local, county, and state officials so that we can be better prepared.

In the case of a power outage, remember to keep freezers and refrigerators closed, only use generators outdoors and away from windows, have alternative plans for refrigerating medicines or using power-dependent medical devices, and disconnect appliances and electronics because power may return with temporary spikes that can cause damage.

Families can prepare for power outages by preparing power outage kits, talking to their medical provider about a backup plan for medical devices powered by electricity and refrigerated medicines, installing carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups on every level of your home, signing up for local alerts and weather reports, and providing flashlights with extra batteries for every member in the household. Camp stoves, generators and charcoal grills should always be used outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, remember never to use a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home.

Outage supply kits include a first-aid kit, bottled water, nonperishable food and an external rechargeable battery pack.

In the future, the District 4 office will keep the community informed of Public Safety Power Shutoffs implemented by utility companies. Although power outages disrupt the lives of the public, county officials are dedicated to providing residents with the necessary information and safety that helps them survive until restoration of power. Although Kern County doesn't have authority over utility company's PSPS program, our partnership with the CalOES and CPUC helps hold utility companies accountable during wildfire season.

Have any questions or concerns? Please contact the District 4 office at 661-868-3680 or email [email protected]

David Couch is Kern County supervisor for District 4, covering Shafter and Wasco.

 

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