Last week, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) held the first of multiple stakeholder workshops to kick-off a new rulemaking intended to establish the rules for wildfire mitigation planning efforts by regulated utilities. The rulemaking is the first of two "separate but closely related" Commission wildfire activities the PUC has linked to Governor Brown's climate change Executive Order from earlier this year. The second is the Oregon Wildfire and Electric Collaborative, which is intended to foster coordination on wildfire mitigation across the state.
Coming on the heels of a devastating wildfire season in Oregon, the rulemaking has garnered plenty of interest. The PUC has emphasized its goal of hearing from a variety of stakeholders, and if the first workshop is any indication, the Commission is likely to fulfill that objective. Attendees represented not only the investor-owned utilities but also publicly-owned utilities, community members and organizations from fire-prone areas, trade groups, and fire fighters—to name just a few.
The initial, "informal" portions of the rulemaking will help the PUC staff scope out and define the parameters of the formal rulemaking. Undoubtedly, the rulemaking will need to grapple with challenging issues and competing points of view from stakeholders.
The Commission has signaled that it anticipates the resulting rules to cover "at a minimum" such issues as risk analysis, mitigation and prioritization measures, the use of anticipatory public safety power shutoffs, vegetation management, and community outreach planning. From the initial meeting, it is additionally clear that there will be debate on fundamental questions such as the types of weather conditions and events to plan for.
Each of these topics could take on a life of its own. As one notable example: some stakeholders advocated for requiring the use of specific mitigation actions to enhance resiliency in fire-prone communities, such as increased use of distributed generation, storage, and micro grids. The PUC's most recent work papers acknowledge that such issues could become a part of this rulemaking.
Although the PUC plans for the rulemaking to take around a year to complete, these early workshops and other opportunities for feedback will significantly affect the course of those proceedings. Stay tuned as we track the developments.