BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                             Senator Ricardo Lara, Chair
                            2015 - 2016  Regular  Session

          SB 1463 (Moorlach) - Electrical lines:  mitigation of wildfire  
          |                                                                 |
          |                                                                 |
          |                                                                 |
          |                                |                                |
          |Version: April 19, 2016         |Policy Vote: E., U., & C. 9 -   |
          |                                |          0, N.R. & W. 9 - 0    |
          |                                |                                |
          |                                |                                |
          |Urgency: No                     |Mandate: No                     |
          |                                |                                |
          |                                |                                |
          |Hearing Date: May 16, 2016      |Consultant: Narisha Bonakdar    |
          |                                |                                |
          This bill meets the criteria for referral to the Suspense File.

          Summary: SB 1463 requires the California Public Utilities  
          Commission (CPUC), in consultation with the Department of  
          Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFIRE), to prioritize areas in  
          which communities are at high risk from the consequences of  
          wildfires when determining areas which require enhanced  
          mitigation measures for wildfire hazards posed by overhead  
          electrical lines and equipment.  The bill also requires the CPUC  
          to develop a definition of "enhanced mitigation measures" in a  
          specified proceeding.

          Fiscal Impact:  
           A total of $582,000 (State Responsibility Area fee or General  
            Fund) over two years for CalFIRE to assess map criteria,  
            oversee Fire Threat Map revision, and validate the map against  
            known electrical utility fires. 
           Minor costs to the CPUC (Public Utilities Commission Utilities  
            Reimbursement Account) for initial prioritization efforts in  
            the existing proceeding.


          SB 1463 (Moorlach)                                     Page 1 of  

          Background:  CPUC efforts to address wildfires. As set forth by the Senate  
          Energy and Utilities Committee which heard this bill on April 5,  
          a series of large wildfires ignited and burned hundreds of  
          thousands of acres in several counties in Southern California in  
          2007. The fires displaced nearly one million residents,  
          destroyed thousands of homes, and took the lives of ten people  
          and an additional seven who died from evacuating or from fire  
          related causes. These fires included the Witch Fire, one of the  
          nation's most damaging, which was ignited by power lines. After  
          the 2007 fires ravaged several areas of the state, in 2008, the  
          CPUC initiated rulemaking proceeding to address fires related to  
          utility poles. 

          The CPUC's efforts have resulted in additional requirements on  
          utilities to reduce the likelihood of fires started by or  
          threatening utility facilities, including improved vegetation  
          management, as well as, requiring the utilities to develop  
          electric utility fire prevention plans. The first phase also  
          adopted fire hazard maps of high-risk areas in Southern  
          California. In May 2015, the CPUC opened a new rulemaking  
          proceeding to develop and adopt fire-threat maps and fire-safety  
          regulations (R. 15-05-006). The CPUC tasked CalFIRE to oversee  
          and select outside experts to develop a more refined statewide  
          fire hazard map. 

          As noted in the Scoping Memo, the fire-threat map will be based  
          on approximately 150 terabytes of fire-weather data, which will  
          be used to run millions of fire simulations to build a high  
          resolution, statewide fire-treat map. The CPUC and CalFIRE have  
          conducted workshops to solicit feedback on the draft map. After  
          a couple of delays, a final map was issued on February 12, 2016.  
          Additionally, the CPUC has announced a safety en banc related to  
          utility pole safety on April 28, 2016 in Los Angeles. The agenda  
          for the en banc includes representatives from CalFIRE, electric  
          utilities, communications utilities and providers and other  

          Laguna's experience with wildfire. On Friday, July 3, 2015, a  
          portion of Laguna Canyon area experienced a fire when falling  
          trees hit a power line on Arroyo Drive which sparked a fire on a  
          brush covered hillside along Laguna Canyon Road. With light  
          winds and air support, the fire was knocked down after burning  
          about 15 acres. Five aircraft and 150 firefighters were  


          SB 1463 (Moorlach)                                     Page 2 of  
          deployed. Based on a local news story, the brush fire prompted  
          the Mayor to call for an all-out effort to underground utilities  
          citywide. According to the same Laguna Beach Indy newspaper  
          story, residents, motivated by improving views and lowering fire  
          risk, themselves have footed the bill to bury utility lines in  
          their own neighborhoods in 40 percent of the city, the public  
          works department estimates. According to a city statement, since  
          2007, at least four fires have been attributed to above-ground  
          electric utilities and been involved in 46 accidents along  
          Laguna Canyon Road, the city statement says. Laguna Beach has  
          also experienced one of the nation's costliest fires. In 1993 an  
          arsonist-caused fire burned 16,000 acres and destroyed or  
          severely damaged over 400 homes and caused $528 million dollars  
          in damage. 

          Mapping fire hazard and risk. The City of Laguna Beach submitted  
          comments into the proceeding to express the city's objections to  
          the map, particularly because the map places the city under the  
          lowest margins of the Utility Fire Threat index. The City of  
          Laguna Beach stated that the map has limitations and correcting  
          what appears to be the exclusion of key criteria that  
          artificially eliminates developed communities from high wildfire  
          risk categories, including housing density and local fire  
          history. The City points to a 2008 CalFIRE Fire Hazard Severity  
          Zone Development map which designates 90 percent of the City in  
          a very high fire hazard severity zone. They also submitted  
          comments to request the CPUC explain how the map will be used  
          prior to adoption, so as to ensure utilities won't point to the  
          map and argued that communities, such as Laguna Beach, are not  
          at risk for wildfire. 

          As noted in the CPUC Scoping Memo after the initial map was  
          developed for Southern California, the task of developing a  
          state-of-the science fire-threat map has proven to be a  
          difficult challenge. 
          Proposed Law:  This bill:

           Requires the CPUC, in consultation with CalFIRE, to prioritize  
            areas in which communities are at high risk from the  
            consequences of wildfires when determining areas which require  
            enhanced mitigation measures for wildfire hazards posed by  


          SB 1463 (Moorlach)                                     Page 3 of  
            overhead electrical lines and equipment.  

           Requires the CPUC to develop a definition of "enhanced  
            mitigation measures" in Rulemaking 15-05-006 (Filed May 7,  
            2015), Order Instituting Rulemaking to Develop and Adopt  
            Fire-Threat Maps and Fire-Safety Regulations, or in another  
            appropriate proceeding.

           Requires that any findings supporting a decision to approve  
            the boundaries for areas describe how the commission  
            incorporated the concerns of local governments, fire  
            departments, or both in determining those boundaries.

          Staff Comments:  The fire prevention activities required in this  
          bill would be eligible for use of SRA fee funds.  However, staff  
          notes that the legality of the SRA is being challenged in court.  
           The committee may wish to consider this a General Fund.


                                      -- END --