In an effort to prevent wildfires in California, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) is once again planning preemptive power shutoffs. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, though, a blackout could be a major roadblock for those working from home, and for businesses that have just reopened, especially as it relates to connectivity, reported the Marin Independent Journal.
Last October, when PG&E shut off power for four days, more than half of the cell towers in Marin were not operational. The outage also impacted the county’s communication system. “If the cell towers go down and we can’t alert the public to an imminent threat and tell them to evacuate, it’s obviously a huge problem,” said Woody Baker-Cohn, an emergency manager for the Marin County Sheriff’s Office.
According to PG&E, to narrow the scope of outages, it plans to create “substation microgrids.” The substations, powered by backup generators, will enable the utility to keep the electricity flowing in areas with a lower risk of wildfires. Eight substations are planned for Marin, including two in San Rafael and one each in Belvedere, Bolinas, Corte Madera, Inverness, Mill Valley, and Novato, reported the Journal.
PG&E will also mitigate outages by implementing “sectionalizing devices,” which will allow for isolating portions of the power grid. PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said the company aims to install nearly 600 such devices throughout its service territory.
The Journal reported the number of devices was not specified for Marin. PG&E has not confirmed with county officials where all devices will be located nor the timeline for installation.
PG&E also plans to add helicopters to its aircraft fleet, increasing it to 65 from 35. This will make shutdowns shorter as all equipment must be inspected and repaired before restoring power. Two new aircraft will also be equipped with infrared technology to allow inspections at night, said Contreras.
Additionally, California State Senator Mike McGuire, whose district includes Marin, proposed a bill — SB 431 — that would require telecommunications companies to have at least 72 hours of backup power for all towers in high-risk fire areas.“California needs to step up and mandate backup power for cell phone towers,” McGuire said. “This bill isn’t about checking your Facebook status; it’s literally about life and death.”
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