County Receives Nearly $1 Million to Prepare for Public Safety Blackouts

News Staff

Almost $1 million will be available to Riverside County agencies for the acquisition of equipment and materials intended to aid in offsetting the impacts of future “public safety power shutoffs,” thanks to a state grant accepted by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The California Office of Emergency Services’ PSPS Resiliency Grant, part of a funding stream authorized under the state’s current fiscal year budget, is designated for a number of uses between now and Oct. 31, 2022.

According to the county Emergency Management Department, the money will be used to procure trailers, mobile generators, generator accessories, mobile heaters and cooling units, as well as educational materials and other resources that can be shared with municipalities throughout the county for general distribution.

The EMD noted in documents posted to the board’s agenda that emphasis will be placed on providing help to “vulnerable communities,” including seniors, low-income families and others who may have limited or no access to relief in the event of a shutoff.

Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and Manuel Perez won full board support in August to direct the EMD to seek state funding to mitigate the impacts of forced blackouts.

During the last major Santa Ana wind event in October, several locations, mostly in the Banning Pass, experienced days-long power shutoffs, also known as “de-energization.”

The practice, though not mandatory, is facilitated under California Public Utilities Commission rulings in response to Senate Bill 901, authored by Sen. William Dodd, D-San Francisco, and signed into law by the governor in September 2018.

The bill requires investor-owned utilities to develop protocols for when shutoffs should occur and how they’re managed. Southern California Edison, which serves large swaths of Riverside County, has already implemented criteria for when to pull the plug on areas with high wildfire risks during windstorms.

SB 901 was largely a response to multiple destructive wildfires in the autumns of 2017 and 2018. Among the worst was the Thomas Fire, which destroyed more than 280,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in December 2017, as well as the Camp Fire in Butte County, the deadliest wildfire in state history, which consumed more than 150,000 acres, killed nearly 100 people and decimated the town of Paradise in November 2018.

Downed Pacific Gas & Electric lines have been blamed for igniting that blaze.

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