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Battling Wildfires and Planning for Electric Power Safety Shutoff’s: How Diesel is Mitigating Risk and Aiding Resilience

    Diesel power is on the frontline helping to mitigate the risk to public health and safety when grid power is cut off and to fight wildfires

    We’re only six months into 2022, but California has already experienced over 2,500 wildfires involving nearly 12,000 acres, with three ongoing fires. The outlook is for a more dangerous season than last year.

    New Mexico is also experiencing record wildfires with nearly 500 square miles burned east of Santa Fe in the last two months. President Biden is set to meet with government leaders in a visit the New Mexico Fire Management Center in Santa Fe on June 11.

    While always part of the natural cycle, wildfires are occurring more frequently, earlier, and over larger areas than in the past. That’s largely due to drought conditions brought on, in part, by the changing climate. Wildfires present growing challenges to state and local government officials seeking to prevent, and manage, them.

    Key in this battle are conventional and specialized firefighters. They use specialized tools and equipment both in the sky and on the ground. Ground based firefighting equipment is powered almost exclusively by diesel, This equipment ranges from conventional fire trucks, like pumpers and water tankers, to specialized off-road heavy construction equipment such as bulldozers. These bulldozers are massive, tracked machines specially equipped for fighting fires. They enable firefighters to cut firebreaks and clear brush throughout rugged terrain, as well as through the flames on the front lines. Often, they’re critical to limiting the spread of the fire.

    While many fires are thought to be started by lightning strikes and human activity, some major fires in recent years have been attributed to the electrical grid. Branches, and full trees, have fallen on power lines causing the dry underbrush to ignite. A number of states have mitigation procedures for utilities now to help reduce the risk of the electric grid contributing to wildfires through planned shutoffs of grid power to parts of at-risk areas. This extreme action leaves residents and businesses notified in advance but ultimately in the dark without vital electrical power, sometimes for several days, depending on fire risk conditions.

    The Oregon Public Utility Commission established new permanent rules for power shutoffs last month. Investor-owned electric utilities, such as Pacific Power, must notify state and local emergency management officials and the general public about Public Safety Power Shutoffs due to wildfire risk.

    Business and communities seeking to sustain their electrical power during these power shutoff events are increasingly investing in backup emergency power systems. Many of these rely on diesel generators, either alone or as part of a microgrid. Mobile diesel generators can be staged in advance or quickly delivered and connected to ensure ready access to electric power if and when a planned shutoff occurs. Diesel generators are uniquely suited for this operation, with their self-contained fuel supply, reliability, long run times, ability to handle heavy loads and demands for power and rapid response (10 seconds) to full load carrying capacity when grid power goes off. To mitigate the air emissions from the operation of these units they can be fueled with 100% renewable diesel fuel that has 50 to 86% fewer carbon and other emissions compared to petroleum diesel.

    Diesel power is on the frontline helping to mitigate the risk to public health and safety when grid power is cut off and to fight wildfires. It is proven technology that works.

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