CEC Formalizes Wildfire Mitigation Plan

CEO Dave MarkhamLast year, Central Electric Cooperative undertook a comprehensive effort to update and formalize its existing wildfire mitigation plan. The plan will undergo a biennial review and be updated as needed or required.

More than 5 million acres burned in California, Oregon and Washington in 2020, marking it the most active fire year on record for the West Coast. In Oregon, extreme windstorms instigated catastrophic wildfires, which burned more than 1.5 million acres, taking human life and thousands of homes. Last year’s wildfires put an exclamation point on a decade in which the West experienced its deadliest and most extensive wildfires in history.

In California, investor-owned utilities came under intense public scrutiny and state legislative oversight. Pacific Gas & Electric—the state’s largest IOU—was proved responsible for igniting the Camp Fire in Paradise and other wildfires.

As a result, California’s governor signed a bill into law in 2018, requiring every electric utility to prepare a wildfire mitigation plan. This was one of many legislative attempts to promote wildfire safety and accountability.

Oregon public utilities and cooperatives are not yet legislatively mandated to file a plan with the Oregon Public Utilities Commission. However, that could change this year because there is a wildfire legislative proposal with such a provision. Gov. Kate Brown supports such a measure and will likely sign it into law should the state Legislature approve.

CEC believes developing a thorough plan and submitting it to the OPUC is prudent and responsible. To ensure the highest standards, CEC worked with a long-established firm in the Pacific Northwest that provides services to consumer-owned utilities throughout the region, including assessments, reviews or the development of wildfire mitigation plans.

The plan takes an active and comprehensive approach tailored for CEC’s service territory with the ultimate objective to minimize CEC’s assets as the origin or contributing factor in a wildfire’s ignition. Goals and metrics measure effectiveness while allowing for retooling and improving it as practices evolve to adopt new technologies when available and feasible.

The plan also includes public safety power shut-offs as a tool to reduce wildfire threats. A PSPS may occur when the National Weather Service issues severe weather warnings for events such as extremely high winds. A recent example occurred on Labor Day when the NWS warned of winds reaching 70 mph on the Cascades’ west side. Thankfully, those winds topped out at 35 mph in CEC’s service territory and did not require the co-op to turn off power to any of its communities. However, there may come a time when such action is required. If so, CEC’s plan lays out general guidelines to follow.

Upcoming Ruralite issues will include information on protecting your home from wildfires, equipping you with emergency preparedness tips and sharing how the co-op will communicate with members should a PSPS scenario occur. For now, go to www.cec.coop/safety-education/wildfire-preparedness/ to read our wildfire mitigation plan and find other helpful materials.

We can anticipate, plan and prepare for the unexpected. With safety as our highest priority, CEC continues to take constructive steps toward mitigating the threat of wildfires in the communities where we live and serve.