By Don Ford

CALISTOGA (KPIX 5) – Pacific Gas & Electric has chosen the Wine Country community of Calistoga to test cutting-edge wildfire prevention technology from around the world, in hopes to make their system safer.

The testing follows years of massive wildfires across California, some of which have been sparked by downed power lines.

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In Calistoga, PG&E is testing a special automated safety system from Australia, called the Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter or REFCL.

“This technology allows us to lower the current, or the amount of energy in a line, when it detects that line has gone down,” said Paul Doherty, a spokesperson for the utility.

PG&E said the action is automated and near instantaneous, so the power line isn’t lying there energized, potentially starting fires.

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The sensor packages consist of a control box that monitors the lines coupled with antennas. They trip specially insulated switches to isolate small sections of the grid instead of entire circuits. A scalpel instead of an axe.

PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras says the utility is being careful. “We will be testing over the next several weeks and depending on those tests, we’ll be able to decide if we want to keep this technology here in Calistoga,” she said.

Another system is from Texas A&M University. PG&E is sending radio signals down energized lines and measuring the return signals. They say this system tells them the health of the lines and even if a single strand is broken.

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Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning welcomes the research. “Some people refer to it as being the Guinea pig, I don’t call it that. No, we’re the Trailblazers if you will.”