County Supervisor urges SDG&E to change Red Flag Warning shutoff policy

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Preventing another wildfire; that’s the rationale that San Diego Gas and Electric uses to explain its practice of shutting down electricity to some communities during Santa Ana winds, in places where a downed power line could ignite a fire.

Sparks from an arcing power line are blamed for starting the Witch Creek fire in 2007. However, County Supervisor Dianne Jacob has been critical of the shutoff policy and said the utility company needs to take other steps instead.

As of mid-day Monday, 387 people were without power in East Ramona, San Diego Country Estates, and La Jolla Indian Reservation.
Another 349 had no electricity in Live Oak Springs, Boulevard and Jacumba. 134 people had no electricity in other parts of the backcountry in the area near Live Oak Springs.

Earlier in the day, nearly 2,500 people had their power turned off, because of the threat of high winds.

Instead of shutting the circuits down, Supervisor Jacob is renewing her call for the utility company to improve and strengthen its infrastructure. That would involve replacing wooden poles with steel ones and taking other measures to ensure the safety of the utility’s power lines.

“If there was a shutoff plan that worked, I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said Jacob. She said the plan in its present form is flawed. “The fact is, we would not even be talking about a shutoff plan if SDG&E had aggressively done what’s called “hardening” their infrastructure,” she said.

SDG&E insists that wooden poles are already being replaced. Other preemptive practices such as removing excessive vegetation are also in progress. The utility company says de-energizing lines is always a last resort.

According to Helen Gao, an SDG&E spokesperson, customers should receive advance notice of a shutoff, especially in the case of people who use certain medical devices, space heating or air conditioning due to a medical condition.

“SDG&E proactively reaches out to all our Medical Baseline customers to make sure they are prepared in the event we need to shut off power in their area. If we can’t reach them by phone, in some instances, we will make a personal house call to ensure the safety of our customers,” said Helen Gao.

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