Wildfire Safety and Enforcement Branch
The Wildfire Safety and Enforcement Branch (WSEB) of the Safety and Enforcement Division regulates and enforces electrical and Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) safety regulations and guidelines, and develops policies to protect consumers, safeguard the environment, and assure Californians' access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services. WSEB conducts investigations of investor-owned utility (IOU)-reported wildfires and the electric IOUs’ PSPS compliance.
Public SAfety Power Shutoffs
One of the actions IOUs use to reduce the risk of wildfire is proactively shutting off the power at certain times and in particular locations when weather and fuel conditions increase the risk that equipment failure will lead to a catastrophic fire. This action is called a PSPS. In 2018, the CPUC ruled that state law, under Public Utilities Code Sections 451 and 399.2(a), authorizes electric utilities to shut off electric power to protect public safety.
While PSPS events can reduce wildfire risk, they also leave customers and essential facilities without power, which brings its own risks and hardships. These hardships are particularly acute for vulnerable communities and individuals. Because of the adverse consequences of PSPS events, the CPUC requires utilities to use PSPS only as a measure of last resort and established guidelines for its implementation. In accordance with CPUC guidelines, utilities have specialized protocols to identify and communicate with customers before, during, and after PSPS events and offer various forms of support, such as backup generator rebate programs. The CPUC also continuously monitors IOU PSPS performance and refines its guidelines for PSPS to reduce the scope, frequency, and duration of outages.
Protective equipment and device settings
WSEB oversees the IOUs’ use of protective equipment and device settings (PEDS) to reduce the risk of wildfires. PEDS are commonly known as “fast trip” settings and programs, which are utility programs intended to reduce wildfire risk by significantly increasing the sensitivity of protective devices and equipment that trigger automatic outages when a fault is detected. PEDS are defined in the 2023-2025 Wildfire Mitigation Plan technical guidelines issued by the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety (OEIS) as “the electric corporation’s procedures for adjusting the sensitivity of grid elements to reduce wildfire risk, other than automatic reclosers (such as circuit breakers, switches, etc.).”
WSEB ensures that these programs are implemented with the Commission’s standards for safe and reliable electric service, and that the impacts to customers are minimized and mitigated where possible. While there is no existing requirement for all of the IOUs to report on PEDS outages specifically and separately, President Marybel Batjer’s October 25, 2021 letter to PG&E imposed reporting requirements for PG&E to report its Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS) program performance. WSEB reviews and analyzes PG&E’s monthly data submissions.
Utilities must report to the CPUC any fire involving their equipment that meets specific criteria (reporting criteria can be found here: https://www.cpuc.ca.gov/regulatory-services/safety/emergency-reporting). The Wildfire Safety Enforcement Branch (WSEB) investigates all wildfires reported to involve investor-owned utility equipment. If WSEB’s investigation determines that the utility violated any applicable rule or standard at the time of ignition, SED undertakes appropriate enforcement action. SED may also undertake investigation and enforcement action based on referrals from the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety, and the CPUC may act on such matters after investigation.