California Utility Programs Offer First-of-its-Kind Protection to Life Support Users
High winds during periods of elevated wildfire risk can bring tree branches and debris into contact with energized lines, damage equipment and ignite a wildfire. As a result, California utilities will pre-emptively shut off power during periods of heightened wildfire risk to help prevent wildfires, a move called a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS).
High winds can bring tree branches and debris into contact with energized lines, damage equipment and ignite a wildfire. As a result, utilities may need to turn off power during severe weather to help prevent wildfires. This is called a Public Safety Power Shutoff.
PSPS events shut power off to all customers in the impacted area, posing serious risk to life support and DME users. In October 2019, a Northern California man who relied on oxygen supply equipment was found dead just 12 minutes after PG&E instituted a power shutoff.According to the California Public Utilities Commission, 78 PSPS events occurred between 2019 and 2022. California utilities implement extensive communications and outreach efforts to notify medical device users before a PSPS event is implemented, but the practice still represents serious risk for this vulnerable population.
In 2019, California’s three largest investor-owned utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE), launched programs that provide eligible life support and DME users at risk of PSPS events with portable battery systems that can operate a number of electric-powered medical devices. This program mirrors the approach of Louisiana’s Power Outage Partners project. Since their start, these programs have invested over $30 million to provide battery systems to over 20,000 Californians.
Power Outage Partners salutes these California utilities for their cutting-edge approach to minimize the impact of a power outage on vulnerable Californians and encourages utilities in other states prone to power outages to consider similar initiatives.