Editor's Note: We are excited to share this employee spotlight of Lynette Aquino, who manages our Strategic Undergrounding Program and has a personal connection to her work supporting some of our most rural communities.
Lynette Aquino knows what it’s like to live for weeks, even months, without power. Growing up in the Philippines, she recounts that devastating storms, typhoons and volcanic activity that frequently left her community without electricity. It proved challenging for her family to tend to their basic needs without power, as they waited for the storm to subside and restoration to come.
In her current role, she is grateful to help keep outlying communities safe and energized during adverse weather conditions, so families and communities don’t have to experience even a fraction of what she went through as a child. With this in mind, Aquino and her team have made this mission their top priority.
Our electric system hardening efforts have been ever-expanding over the past decade, with several programs dedicated to the overhead system's hardening. We have replaced more than 10,000 wood distribution poles in high fire risk areas with new fire-resistant steel poles and replaced copper wire with steel reinforced circuits to reduce wildfires' threat. But now, our focus turns from overhead to underground.
For our customers and employees who live in the outlying areas and backcountry like Julian, Valley Center, or Descanso, specific overhead circuits that feed essential community facilities like schools, fire stations, post offices, or police stations are undergrounded. By burying the power lines, we can remove the risk of these lines sparking a fire during adverse weather like our severe Santa Ana winds.
Another positive result is that these buried lines can remain energized during Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), reducing the impact of a power outage to fire-prone communities.
Undergrounding in Communities
The program is part of our Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP), which kicked off in November 2019 -- with Julian's first project. We provide a generator during PSPS events for downtown Julian to keep the already underground businesses energized on Main Street. The generator cannot support other facilities just off Main Street -- a post office, library, CAL Fire and several schools -- because they are served from overhead circuits.
These critical facilities are served from the overhead lines and suffered from PSPS during adverse weather conditions. Following the completion of this project, all facilities are now fed by a new underground circuit with the goal of remaining energized during a PSPS event if possible.
The next community for undergrounding is Valley Center. Four separate underground projects have been identified: Skyline Ranch, Paradise Mountain, Hell Hole Canyon, and Valley Center Road. While Paradise Mountain construction has been underway, the rest will begin in the first quarter of this year.
When all of these projects are complete, more than 15 miles of circuits will be converted to underground.
Short-and Long-term Goals
Strategic Undergrounding focuses its efforts in High Fire Threat District (HFTD) Tiers 3 and 2 and evaluates long-term and short-term solutions to execute over the next 20 years. The long-term solution focuses on reducing or eliminating fire risk and exposure to PSPS events, specifically for the circuits that have been subject to multiple PSPS events.
The short-term solution emphasis is to mitigate PSPS customer impacts by supporting critical infrastructure such as community centers, schools, post offices, hospitals, libraries, fire stations, gas stations, and other essential businesses. The concept is to provide a direct undergrounding (DUG) feed to these collective community services so that they remain powered even in extreme weather conditions.
“In the Strategic Undergrounding Program, we are looking at fire-prone areas and targeting the critical facilities that benefit the communities to ensure they remain energized during adverse weather conditions," said Aquino. "In addition, we are also working with the Electric System Hardening (ESH) Scoping team to review our circuits holistically and trying to make the biggest impact with each mile of a circuit that is converted underground. I remember what it was like growing up with intermittent power outages, and I am proud to be helping to minimize that possibility for thousands of our customers while at the same time decreasing wildfire risk.”
The Strategic Undergrounding targets 400 miles of circuit for underground conversion and direct undergrounding in the High Fire Threat Districts Tiers 2 and 3 in communities like Valley Center, Rincon, Descanso, Alpine, Julian, Warner Springs, Santa Ysabel and Glencliff over the next couple of decades.
Coupled with the overhead fire hardening being conducted in these same areas, our wildfire mitigation efforts will positively impact thousands of customers by making the electric system they rely on even more resistant to our top operational risk of wildfires.
Thank you, Lynette Aquino, for your dedication to these groundbreaking efforts!