Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) / De-Energization


 

What is PSPS? History and Background

Over the last decade, California has experienced increased, intense, and record-breaking wildfires in Northern and Southern California. These fires have resulted in devastating loss of life and billions of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure. Electric utility infrastructure has historically been responsible for less than ten percent of reported wildfires; however, fires attributed to power lines comprise roughly half of the most destructive fires in California history. With the continuing threat of wildfire, utilities may proactively cut power to electrical lines that may fail in certain weather conditions to reduce the likelihood that their infrastructure could cause or contribute to a wildfire. This effort to reduce the risk of fires caused by electric infrastructure by temporarily turning off power to specific areas is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). However, a PSPS can leave communities and essential facilities without power, which brings its own risks and hardships, particularly for vulnerable communities and individuals. From 2013 to the end of 2019, California experienced over 57,000 wildfires (averaging 8,000 per year) and the three large energy companies conducted 33 PSPS de-energizations.

In 2012, the CPUC ruled that California Public Utilities Code Sections 451 and 399.2(a) give electric utilities authority to shut off electric power in order to protect public safety. This allows the energy companies (SDG&E, PG&E, SCE, Liberty, Bear Valley and PacifiCorp) to shut off power for the prevention of fires where strong winds, heat events, and related conditions are present.

In 2017, fires raged in Santa Rosa, Los Angeles, and Ventura making it one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in California’s history. In response to the 2017 wildfires and Senate Bill (SB) 901, the Commission revised earlier guidelines on the de-energization of powerlines.

The CPUC adopted the most current set of PSPS guidelines on June 5, 2020.

In 2020, the electric companies’ PSPS plans include provisions for COVID-19 measures. Click here for the utilities’ 2020 Planning for Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).

Access to information about consumer disaster relief protections for customers of affected areas during any declared state of emergency, including wildfires, is available on this CPUC News Blog.

 

Evolution of Public Safety Power Shutoffs in California

The CPUC continues to take action to mitigate the impacts of PSPS events:

  • On May 28, 2020, the Commission adopted updated and additional PSPS guidelines to mitigate wildfire risk and the impact on customers when a utility considers implementing a PSPS. These guidelines were approved in Decision 20-05-051, which contains Appendix A, which is Phase 2 of Rulemaking 18-12-005. The CPUC opened this rulemaking to examine de-energization of power lines (PSPS).


The current PSPS guidelines (D.20-05-051) direct the electric utilities to more actively and holistically take into account the needs and input of the Access and Functional Needs (AFN) community, including vulnerable populations and current and potentially eligible medical baseline customers.

Government Code 8593.3 defines “access and functional needs population” as individuals who have the following conditions: Developmental or intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, chronic conditions, injuries, limited English proficiency or who are non-English speaking, older adults, children, people living in institutionalized settings, those who are low income, homeless, transportation disadvantaged, including those who are dependent on public transit, those who are pregnant.  The CPUC and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services have adopted this definition as well.

Click here for a list of AFN actions the guidelines direct the electric utilities to take during a PSPS event.

Phase 2 guidelines are a recent CPUC action directing the electric companies before, during and after a PSPS event. These current guidelines ensure the IOUs enhance consistent, customer-friendly communications before and during PSPS events, minimize the impact on customers when energy utility companies implement PSPS events, and increase accountability with impacted regional Working Groups and reports.

The current Phase 2 guidelines are preceded by and build upon past CPUC actions, described below.

  • On April 30, 2020, the CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) completed a Public Report on the Late 2019 Public Safety Power Shutoff Events (attachments: Part 1, Part 2) that assessed the performance of PG&E, SCE and SDG&E during the late Fall 2019 PSPS events. (SED served its Report in June 2020 to the I.19-11-013 service list, and the Report was incorporated into the record of R.18-12-005 in September 2020.)

    The late 2019 PSPS Events by the three utility companies caused customer confusion, anger, and resulted in some customers, including medical baseline customers, not being notified of the PSPS. These PSPS events spurred many CPUC actions.

    On Oct. 18, 2019, the CPUC held an Emergency Meeting to hear from top Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) executives to publicly address the mistakes and operational gaps identified in the utility’s October 2019 PSPS events and to provide lessons learned to ensure they are not repeated.

    More information about the meeting and CPUC actions in response to all three companies’ Late Fall 2019 PSPS Events is available on the "October 2019 PSPS Events" webpage.
      
  • Phase 1 guidelines were approved on May 30, 2019, in a decision in the R.18-12-005 proceeding, to prepare for the 2019 fire season.
  • The CPUC opened a new Rulemaking (R.18-12-005) on December 13, 2018 to examine the utilities' PSPS processes and practices in response to  Senate Bill 901.
  • Resolution ESRB-8 was adopted on July 12, 2018 to strengthen customer notification requirements before de-energization events and required utilities to submit a report within 10 days after each de-energization event.
  • On April 19, 2012, the CPUC provided its first PSPS guidance to utilities in Decision 12-04-024, in response to SDG&E’s Application 08-12-021 requesting specific authority to shut off power as a fire-prevention measure against severe Santa Ana winds and a review of SDG&E's proactive de-energization measures.

 

Utility Company PSPS Post Event Reports 

The reports in this section are submitted by the utility companies in accordance with Resolution ESRB-8, Ordering Paragraph 1 of California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Decision (D.) 19-05-042 (Phase 1), and Ordering Paragraph 1 of Decision (D.) 20-05-051 (Phase 2).

Reports are listed by the date of the PSPS event or anticipated PSPS event, not the date the report was submitted.

 

2020 Utility Company PSPS Post Event Reports

SCE

 

Potential Impacts on Telephone Service during De-Energization

End users of communication services will receive differing levels of service when their provider loses power. Communications service providers are required under Decision 10-01-026 to implement programs to educate their customers on the different types of back up power supplies and how to obtain them.

Will my telephone work in a de-energization event? It depends.

  • Wireline customers who subscribe to POTS (plain old telephone service) voice service using copper lines generally have service during a power outage. This is because the central office that serves the residence as backup power, which provides the electricity necessary to operate a wired telephone during a power outage.
    • The CPUC does not have rules mandating backup power for this service, however most central offices do have and maintain backup power.
    • Cordless phones require the end user to maintain the batteries in those devices, so that the home portion of the telephone service can operate in a power outage.
     
  • For VoIP customers, service during a power outage depends on the underlying facility used by the provider. Some VoIP providers will maintain line power (some variants of DSL) during an outage, and others rely on network power which may or may not be present.
  • Cable subscribers with voice service may or may not have service in a power outage.
    • The CPUC does not have rules mandating backup power for this type of service.
     
  • Wireless (cellular) customers may or may not have voice service in a power outage, depending on the backup power installed at cell sites.
    • The CPUC does not have rules mandating backup power for this type of service.
     
  • It is the responsibility of the customer to obtain the required backup power in the residence to have working telephone service during an outage event. This might include batteries for cordless phones, routers, WIFI, fiber termination devices, and other customer premises equipment.

Does a communication provider have to provide service? Some do.

  • A service provider that is designed a Carrier of Last Resort (COLR) must offer basic service to all residential customers in its territory under Decision 12-12-038. This includes AT&T, Consolidated, Frontier, and 13 small rural carriers. View a list of all the COLRs and a map of their service territories.  
    • One required element of basic service is for COLRs to provide free access to 9-1-1.
    • The CPUC does not have rules for service providers to keep telephone service operational during a planned power outage.
     
  • If you have a complaint about your telephone service, first call your service provider. If they don't fix it, then please call the CPUC's Consumer Affairs Branch at (800) 649-7570 to submit an informal complaint.

 

The CPUC's General Order 168 Rule 3 requires communication providers who offer end-user access to the public switched telephone network to provide access to 9-1-1 emergency services to all residential customers and wireless devices. Rule 3 does not require carriers to provide access to 9-1-1 during a power outage or de-energization event.

CPUC Resolution ESRB-8 requires electric utilities to make all practical attempts to notify and coordinate with all potentially affected communications service providers before and after a de-energization event.

 

More Information

For additional information, including utility company Progress Reports, go to the company website.

 

Contact

Contact the CPUC's Public Advisor's Office at public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov or U.S. mail at CPUC, Public Advisor's Office, 505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102 if you have questions or would like to comment.

 


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