ACWA Engages at Senate Hearing on Power Shutoffs

  • by Caroline Minasian
  • Nov 20, 2019
  • Water News

On Nov. 18, the California Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications held a hearing to discuss the effects of electric utility power shutoffs. The hearing was scheduled in light of the unprecedented number of Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events that occurred during the month of October, leaving some areas without power for over a week.

In advance of the hearing, ACWA engaged with legislative members and staff to highlight the significant impact of PSPS events on water and wastewater agencies. ACWA formed a PSPS Work Group comprised of 28 member agencies throughout the state in response to the recent shutoffs. The PSPS Work Group has provided valuable insight into the on-the-ground challenges water agencies throughout the state are facing in trying to provide continuous service to customers during multi-day power outages.

During the Senate hearing, several panels, including investor-owned utilities, state agencies, business owners, schools, local governments and other utilities including Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD) discussed the impacts of recent PSPS events.

LVMWD General Manager David Pedersen testified on the challenges that his agency and other water and wastewater agencies faced during the recent round of PSPS events that took place in October. Pedersen said that during these shutoffs, the goal of water and wastewater agencies is to maintain continuous supply to all their customers for health and safety purposes that include cooking, cleaning, sanitation and fire protection. He also outlined the significant challenges agencies face in meeting that goal that include the following areas:

  • Communications: The amount of notice provided for de- and re-energization has been a concern for many agencies who would like to see enhanced and/or standardized protocols to ensure that the information is clear and consistent.
  • Operations: There are numerous challenges associated with backup generators including refueling, runtime restrictions and failures.
  • Finances: Agencies face multiple financial challenges associated with operating costs, staff working overtime, equipment rentals and fuel purchases. Also, many water and wastewater districts are independent special districts and ineligible for recent funding from the Governor’s Budget totaling $75 million to mitigate impacts of shutoffs.

Pedersen concluded by emphasizing the fact that PSPS events are not the long-term solution to reduce the threat of wildfires. Many others shared this sentiment as Senator Nielsen said, “The new normal cannot be PSPS.”

ACWA Director of State Legislative Relations, Adam Quiñonez also provided public comment at the hearing, underscoring the impact of PSPS events on water agencies and offering ACWA’s support as the California Legislature seeks to adopt solutions that mitigate the impacts of shutoffs going forward.

Other testimonies throughout the day focused on improving notifications to impacted communities, the magnitude of collaboration taking place between state agencies and the impact on Californians. Solutions discussed included expediting grid hardening, integrating new technologies, better pinpointing outages and developing comprehensive community response plans. The day ended with plans for a follow-up hearing that will focus on electric utility infrastructure issues.

ACWA staff will continue to meet with legislators on this issue and continue to engage with member agencies through the PSPS Work Group to coordinate solutions to mitigate the unintended consequences of shutoffs. ACWA’s State Legislative Committee also recently reviewed two proposals related to wildfire. The first addresses the challenges with generator runtimes during PSPS events and the second is a proposal for water agency coordination on emergency planning.

Member agencies can direct questions to ACWA Senior Legislative Advocate Julia Hall at JuliaH@acwa.com or ACWA Senior Regulatory Advocate Chelsea Haines at ChelseaH@acwa.com.

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