GEYSERVILLE (CBS SF) — Pacific Gas and Electric alerted state regulators Thursday that a high voltage transmission power line malfunctioned in the area at around the time the Kincade Fire began in Sonoma County.
A prelimimary report from PG&E indicated a there was a malfunction on a 230,000 volt transmission line near Kincade Road and Burned Mountain Road about 9:20 p.m. Seven minutes later, the first calls went out reporting a major fire in the area.
CalPine, the operator of the nearby geothermal facility, is telling media outlets that their lines were de-energized at the time of the fire was reported, because of the fire risk in these hills.
But it wasn’t until 7:30 a.m. Thursday that a Cal Fire crew member pointed out the broken transmission line to a PG&E worker patrolling the area, according to that same report.
When KPIX 5 asked during a press conference why it took ten hours to inspect the area after the company was made aware of the failed line, one official answered, “I’m not aware that it took ten hours to inspect the lines so I have a difficult time answering that question; can you provide any additional content.”
Kincade Fire began at 9:27 p.m.
According to PG&E:
– at 9:20 p.m. they became aware of one of its failed transmission lines in area of the fire
– at 7:30 a.m. the next day, a CalFire crew member points out the broken line to a PG&E worker patrolling area
Question to PG&E: pic.twitter.com/2kMASKlV1b
— Maria Medina KPIX5 (@MariaKPIX) October 25, 2019
PG&E CEO and President Bill Johnson quickly stepped in and said, “That’s a report that’s accurate, I don’t know the answer to that, but we will get the answer to that.”
PG&E said it did not cut power to its high voltage transmission lines in the area, even though lower voltage distribution lines were part of the public safety power shutdown.
Johnson explained why. “The transmission line was not among the lines we de-energized in Sonoma County. Transmission lines in the area remain energized during the wind event consistent with our protocols and procedures,” said Johnson. “In other words, they did not meet the conditions that we forecast for transmission outage,” he said.
The CEO continued, saying that the filing of the report with the CPUC was preliminary and is required for such incidents. PG&E says the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Johnson said the filing of a electric incident report does not mean a cause of the fire has been determined or where it started, and an investigation is still being conducted.
“When they patrolled this morning, Cal Fire brought to PG&Es attention a broken jumper on a transmission tower. Cal Fire efforts in this will draw that ultimate conclusion, but we reported out findings to the regulator and are sharing it with you in the interest of transparency,” said Johnson.
PG&E had shutdown power to 27,837 customers in the area around 3 p.m. Wednesday for its Planned Safety Power Shutdown due to high fire danger weather.
Johnson also admitted during the news conference that while the utility turned off its low voltage distribution lines, it didn’t turn off its high voltage transmission lines, explaining that the winds weren’t strong enough.
“We look at wind speed wind direction, fuel content, how dry is the fuel, humidity, general conditions like that,” he said.
A second round of shutoffs in a broader swath of the Bay Area is expected starting this Saturday night. PG&E confirms some who had their power turned off this week could be in the dark once again.
While officials said the outage is expected to last longer than the power shutoff two weeks ago, they could not yet give an estimate on when it would end.
“We do think it will be the strongest offshore wind event this season by a large margin, and if models are correct, possibly the strongest offshore winds that we’ve seen in years,” said PG&E Chief Meteorologist Scott Strenfel.
Earlier this year, PG&E was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the face of bondholders and liability claims filed by wildfire victims over fires linked to the utility over the North Bay fires in 2017 and 2018. PG&E has also faced liability issues in the past due to negligence in connection with the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010.
Maria Medina contributed to this report.