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Nevada energy company plans outages to prevent wildfires

June 19, 2019

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada residents who live in areas most prone to wildfires could see their electricity intentionally cut off during times of extreme fire danger, the state’s largest utility said.

NV Energy already turns off power during fires when electrical lines are damaged or the system isn’t working properly.

But the utility has announced it would shut off electricity when the risk of wildfire is high, too.

“We are facing a changing climate, there is more fire risk,” Chris Hofmann, the utility’s director of grid reliability, told the Reno Gazette Journal. “We have got to adapt.”

Up to 15,000 customers in the Lake Tahoe Basin and Spring Mountains could be subject to the outages.

New equipment to monitor weather, fuel moisture and soil conditions has been installed to help plan outages. NV Energy also has installed more cameras in the Tahoe area.

The utility’s plan seeks to avoid what has been catastrophic in other parts of the West.

Hofmann said the outages would lower the odds that an electrical malfunction would spark a wildfire.

A California utility agreed Tuesday to pay $1 billion to 14 local governments to cover damages from several wildfires caused by the company’s downed power lines.

A total of $270 million would go to Paradise, which was mostly destroyed in the blaze, if a bankruptcy judge approves the settlement.

Hofmann said NV Energy’s upgrades to monitoring equipment have been in the works for years. The utility also is replacing wooden poles with steel and encased exposed lines with vinyl insulation.

The intentional outages are expected to be rare, based on a study of conditions that would prompt them over the past 20 years.

Conditions were ripe for planned outages about 18 times during that timeframe. Hofmann said each outage would have lasted an hour.

NV Energy encouraged customers to update their contact information with the utility and sign up online for outage alerts. People who rely on electricity for medical reasons would have power restored more quickly.

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