Power Shutoffs to Prevent Wildfires? Yeah, Right
October 28, 2019

A giant wildfire is burning in Sonoma County that has thousands of people evacuated from their homes. Several fires are burning in Los Angeles County. Spot fires have been seen up and down the state this weekend as a result of high winds, and meanwhile 2.7 million people don't have electricity in their homes.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which provides power to just about everyone in the state north of Bakersfield, has decided in its infinite wisdom, that not providing services that it was formed to provide, would save lives. The truth is, even though small businesses are losing millions of dollars, schools are closed, and people are displaced from their homes just to charge their cell phones, the utility company is probably right.

P-G-and-E is calling them Public Safety Power Shutoffs. The largest one, the fifth since the program was launched a few months ago, began on Saturday. Just about everyone east and west of the Central Valley has had their lights turned off, and, just as they are now starting to come back on, they'll be off again tomorrow when P-S-P-S number six begins.

So many people are frustrated. Yuba County (where I live) has not been impacted by the shutoffs. Nevada County (where I work) has been devastated. Some businesses have generators, and have been able to stay open. Many don't, including a privately-owned supermarket with locations in Grass Valley and Nevada City, is throwing away literally tons of food they've been unable to keep refrigerated or frozen. Schools have used up their snow days with classes canceled twice last week, again today, and likely tomorrow and Wednesday. Day to day life has been complete upheaval. Banks are closed and so are several gas stations. Mundane errands, that people take for granted every day, can't be done.

But imagine what this state would look like if the power had stayed on. If you believe P-G-and-E's own logic, all of California would be one massive inferno right now. We are being told that power lines are being turned off because they are a fire hazard. The bankrupt utility company is being blamed for several deadly blazes over the last couple of years, including the deadliest of them all—the Camp Fire which obliterated the town of Paradise. The first anniversary of that fire is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Hey, we get it, P-G-and-E may be telling us that the power shutoffs are in our best interest even though life has been turned upside down, but we know they are really doing this to cover their own ass. That's actually okay with many of us, though. We understand they are billions of dollars in the hole. What's not okay is the way they are handling it.

Their notification system is a complete mess. They say they are notifying customers of upcoming shutoffs at least 48 hours in advance. What they are really doing is announcing there will likely be a shutoff that will happen sometime around this day and this time and will last until that day and time. You can type in your address on their website to find out if you are affected, and then you just sit and wait. As a 'courtesy', the company has set up a series of what they call Community Resource Centers where you can charge your cell phones, get bottled water, and relax in air conditioning if needed. Those places are nothing more than pop-up tents with a generator set up, usually in parking lots of schools, churches, or community centers.

In fairness, other utilities in the state such as Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric are doing similar outages, but on a smaller scale, but how do you expect a company like P-G-and-E, which has brought you the Camp Fire and several others, possibly even the Kincaid Fire burning in Sonoma County right now, to be able to manage a problem of their own making?

Short of moving to another state, there's nothing much we can do about it right now. Governor Gavin Newsom has a valid point when he questions how a state known for innovation and opportunity, has to settle for such a low-tech solution? The P-S-P-S has turned into P-S-B-S, but at least the kids are happy. No school tomorrow.

View All Commentaries