Wildfire season is approaching again in California. The state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), has a problem. Several of the most severe fires in the state’s history have been attributed to PG&E’s electrical grid. PG&E has paid out billions in settlement claims on these fires. Thankfully PG&E has come up with a plan to mitigate the problem this summer.
PG&E is going to turn off the power to tens of thousands of customers for days, possibly weeks.
You will be forgiven if you thought the state that help birth the technological revolution, home of Steve Jobs, Cisco, and dozens of other tech heavy weights might have come up with a more elegant solution.
How did we get here? California’s wildfire season has always been problematic. The spring rains evaporate away leaving behind heavy grass and scrub to dry out and turn into excellent tinder during the long, hot, and windy summer months. And it is, according to PG&E, the wind, that is the problem.
During windy days the possibility that one of PG&E’s electrical lines will snap rises dramatically. Downed power lines in areas covered with flammable vegetation is a recipe for fire. So PG&E will be looking at the weather forecasts and proactively shutting down the electrical grid in areas that are experiencing particularly windy weather.
This should prevent some wildfires. Of course it will also prevent people from powering things like, well dialysis machines, oxygen concentration devices, defibrillators, and scores of other life saving electrical appliances. Not to mention the standard conveniences of a supposed modern world. You know, air conditioning, lights, computers, phones, stoves, televisions, etc, etc. PG&E states that these power outages will last for days or possibly a week or more depending on the weather.
If your thinking this seems like a drastic action for which there should probably be another solution, well you would be thinking rationally. So one has to ask, why is PG&E selling this Kool Aide to the public?
Money. Pure and simple this is a horrifically evil ploy with dire consequences to get the public’s attention. PG&E is a bankrupt company hemmed in by a patchwork of laws that makes it delivery of power especially expensive. Lobbying California’s politicians has not helped PG&E get the relief it feels it needs to properly maintain and upgrade it’s infrastructure. Since lobbying hasn’t helped PG&E has employed the tried and true tactic of fear and uncertainty.
PG&E’s plan just might work, but then again, unless it has to shut down power to major portions of its urban areas, it just might not.
Either way it’s still a win-win for PG&E. If the shutdowns prompt the politicians to address the tangle of regulations that PG&E feels hamper it, great! If the politicians ignore fixing the regulations, then PG&E can use the grid shutdowns in rural areas and redirect that power to the urban cores on days where the grid is under stress. This will save PG&E from having to build out new energy sources or pay to import power.
No more “rolling brownouts” to preserve power to Los Angeles, no the shutdowns were just to prevent the state from burning.
Welcome to the new norm in The Golden State.