The deadly wildfires in Northern California, which killed 42 people, scorched more than 200,000 acres and billions of dollars in damage, has prompted renewed attention to fire safety rules for utility companies.
These rules were first discussed in the wake of the Witch Creek Fire in 2007 and implemented in San Diego. Now, they are being applied permanently and across California.
On Oct. 8, several fires sparked in Northern California, ravaging entire towns and leaving thousands without homes.
Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved an emergency resolution ordering utility companies to take action to protect customers impacted by the October wildfires.
Those utility companies Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Liberty Utilities.
The regulations include some of the following:
Wildfire-impacted customers cannot be disconnected for nonpayment and associated fees through Nov. 9, 2018
- Companies must discontinue billing customers whose homes cannot receive utility services
- Deposits for affected customers looking to re-establish must be waived and companies must expedite move-in and move-out service requests
- Communication companies were also ordered to refund customers who did not have service during the wildfires.
The CPUC is set to vote on the proposed rules on Dec. 14.
In San Diego County, a large portion falls under the areas identified to be most at risk for wildfires.
Under the new regulations, electric and telecommunication companies are required to inspect their overhead lines at least once a year for those areas. They also increased the distance the companies have to trim back trees from electric lines--from 4-feet to 12-feet in high fire danger zones.
"I think it's a necessary thing to do," said ratepayer Carola Esquino. "I think it's a great idea."
But utility companies are warning that these new rules are going to cost a lot of money to implement and will drive up costs for ratepayers.
Esquino told NBC 7, the extra costs would be worth it.
"I definitely think if we looked in retrospect, we all would have pitched in," he said.
A spokeswoman for SDG&E said the utility company already inspects overhead lines in rural areas every year.
She also said SDG&E supports the improved fire safety regulations and will continue to cooperate with the CPUC on developing and implementing new rules.
A statement sent to NBC 7, read, in part:
"Overall, as part of SDG&E’s commitment to the safety of the communities we serve, we have developed, and continue to improve upon, a comprehensive fire risk mitigation program designed to prevent the ignition and spread of wildfires. This includes significant strategic investments to fire-harden the power grid, increase situational awareness, update operating protocols and improve the region’s ability to respond to wildfires regardless of cause. We have also been active in working to update regulations that enhance public safety while also helping to spearhead additional changes that have taken effect for the benefit of our customers."