In 49 states, the safety standard that governs overhead communications and electric facilities is the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC). California—not surprisingly—has adopted its own standard: General Order (G.O.) 95. G.O. 95 is a comprehensive set of rules—more than 600 pages in length—initially promulgated in 1941 and updated approximately 60 times since then (most recently in January 2020) by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) through resolutions and rulemakings.
G.O. 95 establishes "requirements for overhead line design, construction, and maintenance" and broadly applies "to all overhead electrical supply and communication facilities … within the [CPUC's] jurisdiction … located outside of buildings." Like the NESC, G.O. 95 includes safety and construction standards governing items such as clearances for conductors above the ground, separations between conductors, and pole loading standards.
However, the G.O. 95 standards have significant quantitative differences from NESC in the strength and clearance requirements, and attempt to ensure "adequate service"—that is, service reliability.
Even more critically, G.O. 95 also includes a number of affirmative obligations that owners of overhead facilities must adhere to in order to protect the public from wildfire ignition and physical harm (e.g., electrocution) caused by electrical supply and communications facilities. Communications and electric companies with overhead facilities in California should be familiar with, and abide by, these requirements because:
- (i) The CPUC conducts periodic investigations and audits of communications and electric companies, including requests for records of overhead facility inspections and repairs required to be maintained by G.O. 95;
- (ii) The CPUC's Safety & Enforcement Division has authority to issue fines of up to $8 million for G.O. 95 violations; and
- (iii) If an accident or a safety incident occurs, G.O. 95 compliance could be viewed as the relevant standard of care for negligence claims.
The following is a high-level overview of several of the most significant affirmative obligations found in G.O. 95:
- Repair Intervals and Record-Keeping: G.O. 95 requires owners of overhead facilities to repair safety violations within intervals that vary based on the potential safety risk associated with the violation. The repair timeframes can be "immediate" (Level 1 – high risk); up to six, 12, or 36 months (Level 2 – moderate risk); or up to 60 months (Level 3 – low risk). Owners of overhead facilities must maintain detailed records of repairs and retain those records for 10 years.
- Third-Party Notices: Safety violations that involve another company's facilities must be reported to the other company within 10 business days; records demonstrating that notice was given must be retained for 10 years.
- Auditable Maintenance Program: G.O. 95 requires owners of overhead facilities to have an auditable maintenance program and maintain detailed facility inspection records.
- Inspections: G.O. 95 requires owners of overhead facilities to periodically inspect their facilities, with aggressive inspection intervals for facilities in California's High Fire-Threat Districts. Inspection records must be maintained for 10 years. (CPUC G.O. 165 sets out additional requirements for the inspection of overhead electric facilities.)
- Pole Loading Analysis: G.O. 95 requires that any entity planning the addition of facilities to a pole must ensure that the additional facilities will not overload the pole. As a practical matter, this means a pole loading calculation is almost always needed before making new attachments or modifying existing attachments. Pole loading calculations must be retained for the service life of the pole.
- Investigation of Accidents and Cooperation with CPUC Staff: G.O. 95 requires that overhead facility owners (1) have procedures for the investigation of major accidents; and (2) allow CPUC staff to access evidence, witnesses, employees with information, and relevant records pertaining to accidents.
Given the potential risk associated with overhead facilities in California, strict adherence to G.O. 95 is the recommended approach, and comprehensive record-keeping is essential for demonstrating compliance with G.O. 95's requirements.
G.O. 95 is a highly complex, detailed set of regulations. This advisory is intended to serve only as an overview of its most significant affirmative obligations. Please contact DWT for more information.