It’s all anybody in Northern California can talk about. Due to extremely windy conditions, PG&E began to shutdown power to almost 800,000 customers this week. Schools are closing down, hospitals are testing their massive generator systems and firefighters are preparing for the worst. Welcome to the new normal in the wildfire ravaged section of the United States. Welcome to NorCal.
The power shutdowns, planned for much of NorCal from the North Coast all the way down to the Bay Area, started on Wednesday night and are expected to continue through the week. If you’re not sure of the status of your home, see this fantastic map from the San Francisco Chronicle:
PG&E will shut off power in the next 24 hours to more than 800,000 customers in 34 counties. It includes parts of Marin, Alameda, San Mateo and Butte (where the Camp Fire sparked last year).— Lizzie Johnson (@lizziejohnsonnn) October 8, 2019
See if your home or business will be impacted here:https://t.co/BD1tss4Iud
Since PG&E has famously taken blame for many of the wildfires of 2018 and 2019, the company decided the only prudent way to deal with fire-prone conditions is to shutoff power to the masses. This could potentially save the San Francisco-based company billions in wildfire payouts, as well as the lives and property of NorCal residents. But this is no way for NorCal residents to live and far from a long-term solution to the problem.
This week’s power shutdowns are certainly necessary to help (with no guarantees) avoid the next big wildfire, but it comes with some serious risks. With the shutdowns, many homes will be running on gas powered generators, a wildfire risk in their own right. Since school and offices are closed this week, people will be looking for adventure outdoors, increasing risk of man-made wildfires in the wilderness. Add the many of sick and elderly who can’t refrigerate their medications and mothers and fathers trying to feed their children without a working kitchen, this whole situation could be dangerous for residents.
The worst part? The power shutoffs don’t necessarily decrease the likelihood of a devastating wildfire. It simply shifts the financial risks of a wildfire from the embattled power company to the communities it serves. Here’s UCLA Climate Scientists explaining this reasoning:
Phrased another way: the #PSPS #PowerOutage is a necessary bad idea in the short term. It has high likelihood of preventing additional catastrophes like in Santa Rosa/Paradise, but shifts costs from utilities to communities in highly inequitable way & creates new fire risks.#CAwx https://t.co/9DC27mA3Bl— Daniel Swain (@Weather_West) October 9, 2019
If a wildfire were to hit, there are added risks in a community without power. The digital warning systems we’ve become so accustomed to are now less effective. The traffic lights to control traffic of an evacuating area are out, enabling chaos. Our lack of digital devices make it much more difficult to communicate with friends and family.
Many of the residents who will be forced to live without power this week have no realistic alternatives to using PG&E. Unless you invest in solar power, it’s PG&E or bust. And this is the true problem. A private company who saw massive financial losses is now significantly affecting our lives. Schools are closed, businesses are losing money and residents can’t use the electric technology we pay our hard-earned money to enjoy.
These shutdowns are certainly prudent in Northern California’s quest to avoid another catastrophic wildfire, but it’s not a longterm solution. What’s the solution? If we haven’t figured it out yet, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.