August 29, 2018 - From the August, 2018 issue

Edison CEO Pizarro on the Role of Utilities in Addressing Climate’s “New Normal” & Wildfires

As the President and CEO of Edison International, Pedro J. Pizarro has been a leader on climate action among electric utilities. His passion around the climate change challenge led Edison to sign a pledge in support of climate action and reducing carbon emissions, even after President Trump announced that the United States would walk away from the Paris Climate Accords. Pizarro, who has served as President and CEO since 2016, explains how dangerous and destructive that the “new normal” of a changed climate could be for California. In the TPR excerpt below, Pizarro describes how Edison is investing in a more resilient grid to combat climate change and a year-round wildfire season. It deserves note that Mr. Pizarro is also a director of the Edison Electric Institute and the Electric Power Research Institute, a Trustee of California Institute of Technology, and a member of the Board of Governors of Argonne National Laboratory.


Pedro Pizarro

"Last year’s wildfires in California released as much carbon dioxide as the entire electric power sector. We can expect to see these trends rising, which will be a huge setback to our state’s goals. It makes it even more crucial that we move forward together to convert our economy to clean technology." - Pedro Pizarro

Pedro Pizarro: Climate change remains a topic of political debate. But in California, we are not having political debates about science. We are having debates about the best ways to reduce our impacts and invest in a cleaner future. Climate change is something we are living with already, most dramatically and tragically in the form of wildfires. 

We know it is going to be hotter, drier, and warmer in a world of climate change. We know it will require action to protect our customers. This strengthens our resolve to act to build a cleaner grid that harnesses low-carbon energy technologies.

The facts are clear. There have been record-breaking heatwaves in Europe that have led to numerous deaths. We’ve had record heat and droughts in California. The vegetation growth from the past couple of rainy years has created a tinderbox of brush and fuel for fires. The historic drought led to the death of millions of trees, including the impact of bark beetle infestation. In California alone, according to the U.S. Forest Service we had something along the lines of 129 million dead trees and 9 million acres. I should say that we had 129 million dead trees, because that was before the fires.

Nearly 65 percent of the state is still in some level of drought. Last year, we saw the horrible consequences and devastation. We saw searing heat, high winds, and low humidity all come together to create the worst wildfire season in memory. Wildfires are increasing in frequency, and eight of the twenty most destructive fires in California’s history have occurred since 2015. The most devastating fires in California have happened in the past 11 months. It’s historic.

Our rainfall this past year was well below normal levels, especially in Southern California. We received only one quarter of our usual rainfall. This does not bode well for 2018 and 2019. And it is not just California, More than 100 large fires are currently burning in the Western states, and so far, more than 6 million acres have burned nationwide in 2018, an area larger than New Hampshire.

Now who is fighting these fires? We have more than 1,200 firefighters that remain on the line to fight the 15 active fires [note: active fire count as of August 24, 2018] currently burning across California. The Mendocino Complex fire is now the largest fire in state history, at more than 460,000 acres. California fires just this year have collectively damages or destroyed more than 2,000 structures. Frankly, the outlook is grim. The possibility of seeing 1 million acres of land burned in California this year is frighteningly real.

The wildfire season is now year-round. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but it is time to be realistic. We are past the point of debate. It is time for all of us to take real action on climate change.

How does Edison contribute to the climate change discussion? The utilities in California are at the leading edge of climate action. Addressing climate is a major part of our strategy and our entire industry because we have the opportunity to move the needle by adopting clean energy and helping customers use clean energy to run their cars, use their appliances, and heat their homes without having to burn fossil-fuels.

Edison is fortunate to work in a state that is actively working to address the issue of climate change. California has some truly ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gases by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. Our state is setting an example for the nation and the world. It is not just something that Governor Brown or legislative leaders are touting. It is not just politics. It is something that our customers want, the people of California. According to PPIC polls, the polls consistently show that somewhere around 70 percent of Californians support our state’s environmental policies.

What drives Edison is the initiative to innovate. We are undertaking a massive transformation. Just to give you an example of the size of our efforts, we recently submitted a proposal to develop and install 48,000 electric vehicle charging stations to help people charge in public places. That is a massive project, but it is only the beginning.

By also facilitating customer choice with solar and storage technologies, we are both giving our customers independence and creating a more resilient grid. And we are making significant progress. Last year, 46 percent of the power we delivered to our customers came from carbon-free sources, including renewables such as wind and solar. We reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2 million metric tons, or about 10 percent, just from 2015 to 2017.

Edison has unveiled its Clean Power and Electrification Pathway to 2030. We looked at the hundreds of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our economy, and then developed the most workable plan to help the state achieve its goals at the lowest possible costs for consumers across California.

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The Pathway will help California achieve its climate goals and significantly reduce today’s health-harming air pollution in local communities. It also has strong potential to create highly-skilled, middle-income jobs. By 2030, it calls for an electric grid supplied by 80 percent carbon-free energy. Today, we are at 40 percent but we believe we can get to 80 percent through increased renewables and storage. New storage will help balance our excess solar and renewable energy.

We also will reduce the energy use in existing buildings by half, through using electricity to power nearly one-third of space and water heaters, in increasingly energy-efficient buildings.

The state of California’s largest source of emissions comes from transportation and it represents around 80 percent of air pollution.

Our utility is serving as a primary vehicle for one of the state’s largest and most ambitious environmental policies: to reduce our fossil fuel dependence in the automotive sector.

Our Pathway calls out the fact that we need along the lines of 7 million electric vehicles on our roads by 2030. We—as a utility—have a role to play in helping build and support charging stations, as well as our customers with smart rate design and education campaigns.  We need to electrify our transportation sector to reduce our emissions. 

2030 is just a short dozen years away. How will we get to these ambitious goals? Well, the private and public sectors must work together to support customer adoption, while ensuring electricity remains reliable and affordable, and that end-use technologies are increasingly energy efficient. Public policy can enable the Clean Power and Electrification Pathway through comprehensive integrated resource planning that includes consideration of end uses of fossil fuels, through investing cap-and-trade revenues thoughtfully, and through supporting electrification in transportation, homes and businesses.

Last year’s wildfires in California released as much carbon dioxide as the entire electric power sector. We can expect to see these trends rising, which will be a huge setback to our state’s goals. It makes it even more crucial that we move forward together to convert our economy to clean technology.

How will we adapt to this reality and further ameliorate the risks going forward? All of us are rethinking utility practices and looking to other countries around the world about ways to reduce risks. We are looking at ways to eliminate the risks of tree branches from impact our lines. We are expanding our removal of dead and potentially hazardous trees, beyond the state’s requirements. 

We also have a 24-hour center station to have advanced, real-time weather tracking. We are adding hundreds of weather stations and monitoring technologies to track the temperatures on a more granular scale. We need to know when conditions change on a canyon-by-canyon or street-by-street level.

We are installing more fire resistant poles in high fire-risk areas. This also includes more insulated wiring, to avoid the risks. In the most extreme cases, we are installing the ability to turn off power quickly. We are calling it the Public Safety Power Shutoff. We will only be doing this to reduce the risk of our power lines from being an ignition source for wildfires. We are working hand-in-hand with our communities, first responders, and the state.

The wildfire threat also demands that our state update our forestry management practices. We need to keep our forests healthy, and today they are not healthy. Land use management is also something that we need to better address. The risks for firefighters addressing fires in well-planned urban areas are significantly less frightening than in areas with massive overgrowth.

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© 2018 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.