San Diego

State Could Start Fining Utility Companies for Neglecting Equipment

State leaders may crack down on utility companies for neglecting things that could start a devastating wildfire.

Since 2014, roughly 2,000 fires have started because of power lines in the state of California. A little more than 100 of those were here in San Diego.

San Diego Gas and Electric says it has taken giant steps to prevent wildfires in recent years, but the president of a local fire safety council is afraid the utility isn't doing enough.

“It really is a purpose-driven culture here to prevent wildfires,” SDG&E’s Brian d’Agostino said. According to d’Agostino, SDG&E has invested millions in making sure devastating fires like the Witch Fire in 2007 never happen again.

Since a downed power line sparked that fire that resulted in two deaths and nearly 250,000 acres of scorched earth, the director of Fire Science and Climate Adaptation says the utility has replaced wood poles with metal ones, developed procedures to shut down power during strong Santa Ana winds, and even recruited meteorologists to monitor dangerous weather.

“It is a science. I mean, here we are in the weather center. Like any science, we continue to evolve. We continue to learn,” d’Agostino said.

Kristen Rayder, Scripps Ranch Fire Safe Council President says she’s not ready to celebrate anything yet.

She supports a recent push by state leaders to fine utilities for not clearing vegetation or fixing equipment even if there isn’t a wildfire.

She argues San Diegans are fined if they don’t clear brush around their homes, so, “It seems only reasonable that the utility company should have to follow the same rules that the private citizens have to.”

D’agostino credits fire councils like Rayder’s for protection of the entire region.

“What we’re finding is it’s not just what SDG&E is doing, it’s what the whole San Diego region has done over the last ten years,” he said.

SDG&E says it chops down more than 8,000 trees and trims 175,000 more every year.

The California Public Utilities Commission has only fined a utility after an investigation found the utility’s equipment started a fire. It has not fined one for not clearing vegetation or having faulty equipment.

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