Wildfire concerns prompting SDG&E to upgrade infrastructure, explore new technology

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San Diego Gas & Electric is upgrading its infrastructure and expanding its use of technology to limit the risk of wildfires and reduce the time it takes to restore service afterward.

More than 14,000 wooden power poles have been replaced by steel versions, special cameras have been placed on 16 mountaintops and 177 weather stations are monitoring winds and moisture, an SDG&E official told a City Council committee last week.

The public utility is also jointly working on a new fire behavior modeling analysis with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention and UCLA.


The goal of the analysis is to determine which direction a fire is likely to move when it starts and what structures it might threaten, SDG&E meteorologist Brian D’Agostino told the Infrastructure Committee.

In addition, the utility recently established a new Fire Science and Climate Adaptation Department to monitor, track and mitigate the effects of wildfires and climate change on SDG&E infrastructure.

Climate change has been blamed for worsening wildfires in California. Several fires throughout the state have burned record numbers of acres during the last year.

Though fire season has essentially become year-round, fall is still considered the most dangerous period because summers dry out the brush and vegetation that typically fuel wildfires.

SDG&E also continues to operate its Skycrane helicopter, which has been dispatched 30 times this year and dropped 230,000 gallons of water on fires.

On replacing the wooden poles, D’Agostino said the primary focus is on older ones that have been loaded up with telecommunications equipment.


The utility has no immediate plans to replace all wooden poles with steel because there are simply too many.

“The distribution system is as vast as the road network through the neighborhoods,” D’Agostino said.

The utility also recently completed a study of sea level rise that showed 12 coastal substations could be under water by the year 2100.

D’Agostino said the utility is creating a prevention plan that could include installing barriers, adjusting building designs and locating repair equipment on site to accelerate restoration of service after a flood.

Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.