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PG&E's Transmission Lines Threaten Northern California Yet Again

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Aug 18, 2020
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In late June, my work took me to Santa Rosa, California. In addition to work, however, I hit up a lot of vineyards and got a lot of Mexican take-out. At one of the Mexican restaurants, I struck up a conversation with some construction workers who were waiting in line with me. They’d come to the area in the early 2000’s from central Mexico and worked for a company that renovated bathrooms. Business, they told me, had never been better. Almost three years after wildfires devastated the region, their group was still flush with contracts to re-do burnt out bathrooms. 

While the fires may have been a boon for businesses associated with the recovery, their net impact was undeniably catastrophic. According to one estimate I saw, the region suffered over $14.5 billion in damages. 

But PG&E, the embattled utility that was found responsible for all but one of the fires that October, has buttressed their transmission system to ensure this doesn’t happen again, right? Sort of. They have made some relatively low-cost, low-intrusion changes to mitigate fires since 2017: Synchrophasers come to mind. But the comprehensive changes needed to protect Northern Californians are a distant dream. And so here we are yet again, biting our nails as temperatures in Sonoma flirt with the three digit mark.

Making matters worse, residents of the region need electricity more than ever because of Covid-19. They aren’t going to their offices that may have micro-grids or generators. So if power is out, so are their jobs. 

The tricky questions facing the utility were summed up in a recent article on the matter in the Press Democrat, a Santa Rosa newspaper:  

“Executives face a fraught calculation: How and when to turn off the power to prevent fires while limiting the costly and potentially life-threatening effects of cutting electricity during a pandemic?

PG&E has vowed to reduce the impact of its power shut-offs by one-third — fewer customers, shorter duration — compared to the repeated shut-offs in October and November that put roughly 2 million Californians in the dark.

That’s likely to mean much of PG&E’s 18,000 circuit miles of overhead transmission lines — the mainline systems delivering electricity to the distribution lines that power communities — will remain electrified during risky fire weather.”

How many more summers will we read the same story? When will one of the richest regions on earth finally get the underground transmission lines it needs to ward off its own extinction?


 

Discussions
Jim Horstman's picture
Jim Horstman on Aug 20, 2020

Undergrounding is always the 'easy' solution to promote. However, it is both costly and in many areas, particularly where the fires occur, not even practical given the terrain in addition to the environmental impact.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 20, 2020

I've had the same conversation with people around here in FL who can't fathom that it actually might be a more practical solution in hurricane-prone areas to still use above ground T&D. 

Henry Craver's picture
Thank Henry for the Post!
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