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#PRWIN: Pacific Gas & Electric Isn’t Playing With Fire

California Wildfire

If you followed the news last summer, you know it wasn’t a campfire that caused the Camp fire. The most destructive wildfire in California history, it killed 85 people and tragically destroyed a town called Paradise.1 Like many California wildfires, it was sparked by failed electrical equipment during a period of bone-dry, windy weather. And after the drastic devastation, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company is willing to take drastic measures to prevent the same thing from happening again.

At the end of May, California regulators approved PG&E’s proposal to cut the power – potentially even to cities like San Francisco and San Jose – when the fire risk is exceedingly high. Aside from civilian loss of life and property damage, the wildfires cost the electric company billions of dollars in liabilities, which they of course would hope to avoid.2 The California Public Utilities Commission is requiring PG&E to take more preventative measures, such as clearing brush and installing fire-resistant poles, but even in the face of compelling objections, they’ve given the OK. Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning has said that it’s a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” situation.3

After all, there are thousands of residents in these at-risk areas who rely on electrically powered medical equipment, have language barriers, or whose mobility is limited.4 “De-energization,” as the measure is called, plunges these communities into conditions that are almost as unsafe. But for the state as a whole, it’s a huge wake-up call – particularly in areas with runaway development, putting more and more people in the line of danger.

I’m of the mind that the approval for blackouts is – on the whole – a #PRWIN. We can’t have another Camp fire – something has to be done. The state is exploring measures to provide generators and backup power sources to those who rely on electrical power for survival, and considering more carefully the emergency procedures both for wildfires and for the power outages that might prevent them.5

When all is said and done, even the Camp fire itself could have been prevented by being safe rather than sorry. “Everyone I know in Paradise,” said the city’s Mayor Jody Jones, “knew that PG&E might cut the power off. I didn’t see that as a problem. The problem was that they didn’t actually shut it off.”6

  1. Thompson, Don. “California Approves Power Outages to Prevent More Wildfires.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 31 May 2019, www.apnews.com/62507f0e6e7640368fed14dc905ff1cd.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “To Prevent Wildfires, California May Need to Endure Power Blackouts.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 30 May 2019, www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-power-shutoff-wildfire-20190530-story.html.
  6. Thompson, Don. “California Approves Power Outages to Prevent More Wildfires.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 31 May 2019, www.apnews.com/62507f0e6e7640368fed14dc905ff1cd.

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