Wildfire season has arrived in California, and while potentially dangerous conditions in the foothills could soon leave Valley cities in the dark, Turlock’s power will remain.
As an additional precautionary measure following the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, PG&E has expanded its wildfire safety program. This includes expanding its Public Safety Power Shutoff program to include all electric lines that pass through high fire-threat areas — both distribution and transmission.
Local high-risk areas in the Sierras include Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, where high winds and conditions contributing to destructive wildfires could cause cities like Manteca to lose power for up to five days should such a situation arise. PG&E received the green light from the California Public Utilities this wildfire season to cut power on transmission lines that could leave cities more than 80 miles from these high-risk areas without electricity in order to reduce potential for the utility’s equipment to spark fires, such as the one last year in Butte County that killed 85 people and destroyed more than 14,000 homes.
According to Turlock Irrigation District, which provides power for Turlock residents, the risk of wildfires and the need to implement a PSPS in the TID service area is “extremely low.” PG&E has a much larger reach when it comes to providing energy, meaning smaller communities which may not necessarily be at risk are still affected when certain transmission lines need to be shut off.
“Turlock Irrigation District continually monitors, revises and expands our wildfire safety efforts throughout our service territory and beyond,” TID Communications Division Manager Constance Anderson said. “The majority of the district’s service area is not designated as a high fire threat area, nor is it likely to present the combination of criteria that may necessitate the use of PSPS.”
The western-most end of the district, west of Interstate 5, includes the community of Diablo Grande as well as residents along Del Puerto Canyon Road. The recent Rock Fire burned 2,422 acres there from June 25 to 27, and the fire’s cause is still under investigation. This area, known as the West Side Fire Zone, contains 77 miles of overhead distribution lines and 18 miles of underground distribution lines.
At the east end of the district is the town of La Grange and the area between Don Pedro Reservoir and Turlock Reservoir. This foothill area includes vegetation on the south bank of the Tuolumne River and is crossed by highway 132. The East Side Fire Zone contains 34 miles of overhead distribution line and 35 miles of transmission line in high fire risk areas on the east side of the district.
Though classified as fire zones, the threat of a wildfire in these areas is not enough to require the use of PSPS, Anderson said. While this risk is low in the TID service area, a PSPS could impact local communities just outside of its service area, such as Manteca and Ripon, which are in the process of developing contingency plans should their power go out.
Even if the power is shut off to a nearby city outside of TID’s service area, the area’s distribution of power is not likely to be affected, Anderson said.
“TID controls both the transmission and distribution on the lines within our district,” she said. “As a Balancing Authority, the district has put in place the resources and internal generation capabilities to reliably provide power under many varying circumstances.”
In short, Turlock residents don’t need to worry about their power shutting off when conditions become hot — unless they haven’t paid their bill.
Additional information on TID’s approach to wildfire safety, as well as what to do in the event of an outage, can be found at www.TID.org/wildfire.