LADWP Statement Regarding City Controller’s Report on Wildfire Prevention

LOS ANGELES (November 20, 2019)–LADWP spent the last six months working with the City Controller’s staff to discuss and share elements of the Department’s Draft Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which will be presented to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners on December 10, 2019. This plan addresses and includes many of the recommendations made in the Controller’s report released earlier today and builds and expands upon LADWP’s successful Power System Reliability Plan (PSRP), which has invested $3.9 billion over the past five years in aggressively replacing and upgrading aging equipment across the City of Los Angeles. This work includes extensive replacement of equipment located in high fire risk areas, which represent 10-15% of our infrastructure. Reliability and the safety of all our residents are top priorities for LADWP.

Through LADWP’s Power System Reliability Program, last year (FY 2018-19) we replaced:

  • 3,757 power poles, exceeding goal of 3,500 poles
  • 10,203 crossarms, exceeding goal of 10,000 crossarms
  • 1,238 distribution transformers, exceeding goal of 850 transformers

In fact, over the past four years, as part of our commitment to accelerate infrastructure replacement, LADWP has replaced over 11,000 power poles, 33,800 crossarms and over 3,700 distribution transformers across the City, including in high fire risk areas.

LADWP has taken other significant steps to prevent fires and improve reliability. Last year alone, crews inspected over 400,000 trees, trimming nearly 190,000 along power lines and near our facilities.  We used infrared monitoring and detection and a robust line patrol program to detect and prevent problems on our local grid, detecting problems before they occurred, and effectively reducing risk.  We also enjoy a very strong partnership with the LAFD to reduce the risk of wildfire, “The LAFD has been working closely with our partners at DWP to assist with their ongoing efforts to mitigate wildfire risk, said LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas. “It’s a process that DWP is firmly committed to and together our agencies will continue that work going forward to protect Angelenos from the threat of wildfire.”

The City Controller’s report released today focuses on the 10% – 15% of LADWP’s power transmission and distribution equipment in high fire risk areas, while the Departments much larger infrastructure replacement program, the PSRP, prioritizes work across the entire City, ensuring that infrastructure investments are made where they will have the greatest impact for the most customers, not just in hillside communities. Having said this, we recognized the need over a decade ago to develop system design standards for fire risk areas and strengthened our design standards for new equipment in fire risk areas. We have also been developing a comprehensive wildfire mitigation plan and shared many of the elements of the plan with the Controller’s staff and provided our in-house subject matter experts. This information and interviews served as the basis for many of the ideas and recommendations contained in the report.

We recognize that every dollar we spend comes from our customer’s pockets.  They are our customer-owners and we have a responsibility to invest the money they entrust to us responsibly.  While many of the recommendations in the report are ones we agree with and provided to the Controller’s staff, some of the options such as extensive undergrounding of electrical distribution equipment are cost-prohibitive, have their own risks and reliability concerns, and will not prevent fires.  We must balance costs with risk and also ensure that the steps we are taking are effective and that resources are invested equitably and effectively.  We have excellent personnel who do this very work every day.

It is also important to understand that the challenges LADWP faces are not unique in the utility industry.  We face a shortage of qualified personnel to do skilled craft electrical work, which is affecting nearly every utility in the nation.  This is not any fault of LADWP, but a reality that requires us to prioritize how we utilize our crews to replace infrastructure. As part of our wildfire mitigation plan we will be adding additional crews to do even more to harden our infrastructure in fire prone areas and we will work with experts on the various state agencies and Boards who oversee wildfire prevention activity, to ensure that our plans continue to meet and exceed regulatory standards.

The Controller’s report also raises a very real and serious concern regarding the need for cooperation and support among other state and local agencies that have authority over areas where LADWP needs to replace equipment.  Just three months ago, the LA Times featured one example where our work to replace 200 aging poles in high fire risk areas in the City of LA was stopped due to environmental concerns and permitting questions and this work has been delayed. We need the cooperation of permitting jurisdictions to place a high priority on this critical work.

We are proud of the work we have done and look forward to enhancing our efforts as we face the challenges wildfires bring.  

Background on LADWP Wildfire Mitigation Measures
Since 2008, LADWP has put in place reliability standards for power equipment that helps mitigate wildfire risks in high-threat fire zones. In addition, the Department has aggressive vegetation management and Power System Reliability Programs, both of which serve to help mitigate wildfires. 

LADWP has also worked with the LAFD to put in place operating protocols and restrictions when working in designated fire threat and brush clearance areas and during Red Flag warning periods. This includes suspending all non-essential work in Tier 2 and 3 zones. When work is completed in these areas extra precautions are taken to ensure the work performed does not contribute to the risk of ignition

This year, LADWP put new protocols in place to further reduce the risk of wildfires and more are in development under the Department’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan. For example, during the recent Saddleridge and Getty fires, LADWP turned off automatic reclosers on its distribution lines. This step ensured that a power line that experiences a disruption does not automatically re-energize, substantially minimizing the potential for fire ignition.  Crews also de-energized power lines directly impacted or threatened by the fire. This allowed staff to work closely with LAFD to eliminate electrical hazards within the path of the fires.

LADWP’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan also includes additional measures to harden our system against fire risk, including the installation of more steel poles and covered wire, which the utility industry is quickly transitioning to in order to reduce the risk of wildfire.