When Pacific Gas and Electric Co. first started talking about regularly using power shutoffs, there was some murmuring amongst consumers, but general agreement: the company has to do what it must to prevent devastating wildfires.
Power shutoffs protect the company – already in bankruptcy, having racked up billions and billions of dollars in damages from fires sparked by PG&E equipment – from further liabilities. But more importantly, power shutoffs, when successfully used, protect lives and property.
We have some experience with loss of homes and loss of lives. No one is going to kick to hard about any measure that prevents more of the same ... up to a far off point.
With appreciation to the company for taking steps to prevent further devastation, we should remember the company isn’t off the hook. Turning the power off isn’t a great strategy; especially long term. PG&E needs to figure out a better way.
When red flag weather is forecast, the company is now prone to shut off power to those parts of the grid that might be susceptible – where there is plenty of dry fuel, where high winds and dry conditions would be conducive to fire starts from downed lines or arcing.
That’s fine. Except no one really put much thought into the idea that power shutoffs could happen quite frequently, or about the prospect that a power shutoff could last indefinitely. How does that sit with residents and businesses that count on electricity delivery every day as a normal part of life?
We’ll continue to go along with the idea of staying safe by shutting down portions of the grid facing truly dangerous weather conditions. But we’ll continue to expect the company to eventually conquer this problem. Because power shutoffs are not a solution; they are a part of the problem, albeit the much lesser of two evils.
We’ve been warned by Yuba County that some residents should be prepared for power to be shut off for as long as five days in the foothills. We were reminded that the forecast of winds and dry conditions was very similar to the weather that fueled the Cascade Fire in Loma Rica in early October of 2017 – that fire burned close to 10,000 acres, destroyed more than 250 structures and killed four people.
Yes. Keep our neighbors safe. But acknowledge that shutoffs, in addition to being a safety measure, are a way to limit further liability ... which is the same as shifting costs to consumers – OK for now, but we need more than a promise that the company is looking at ways to harden the system; we need frequent status reports showing us actual progress.
All that aside, we couldn’t agree more with Mary Mays, a Cascade Fire survivor quoted in a news story about the potential shutoff.
She said that we all need to learn to live with the prospect of shutoffs and not to blame local PG&E crews. “I wish people would step back and realize the guys in the trucks are not the enemy.”
Amen to that.