The Land Without Power: Welcome to the New Normal in Northern California

Photo: Flickr/Santa Rosa Fires

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:

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:

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.

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Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

16 Comments

    1. You do realize how much that will cost? When there’s a short in the line, it takes a LOT longer to fix that problem. It’s prohibitively expensive

    1. Also “accustomed too” should be “accustomed to.” I guess journalists aren’t taught proper grammar and spelling these days.

      1. AMEN, Julie! I am sick of seeing so many grammatical and spelling errors everywhere. And it’s just BASIC things that 6th graders have learned (or SHOULD have learned! They did when I was in school. Of course, at 70 I supposed I’m viewed as an ancient relic).

    1. Basic indicators of intelligence and education are grammar and spelling. If the writer cannot be troubled to use the Queen’s English correctly, the quality of their material and reasoning comes under question.

  1. There was a news article that PG & E filed for bankruptcy! Now I see the CEO & the top dogs are to get bonuses! At the cost of the customer! You need to sue for breech of contract!

  2. This article dances with the truth (this is a litigation avoidant chest-beat for the benefit of the bankruptcy judge and shareholders, which plunges NorCal residents into greater wildfire danger than with power on, creating indefinite loss of income to individuals and businesses).

    It doesn’t help to do a few pretty turns with something resembling truth while toeing the “prudent, necessary” line. Are you hoping we can read between the lines, see the contradictions in this article and understand the truth, while your bland wording keeps your own shareholders fat? If so. Mission accomplished, probably. I’d love to see more hard-hitting reporting though, tracking the *billions* of lost income to which NorCal residents will be subjected, and the clear fact that we’re being had by a monopolistic power mafia.
    Oh, wait: Greg Palast already did that, to a degree at least. Let’s take a look: https://www.gregpalast.com/pge-is-a-crime-wave-not-a-power-company/?fbclid=IwAR1hVho5FMjuJu75JdePCrcBeYYuaXScEFYSTTKEa2VnEMXjpt7NqLCbKyM

      1. There it is. Our forefathers had the wisdom to manage the forest rather than let it grow unrestrained. There is a reason that for nearly a century there were controlled burns, firebreaks, and similar measures to protect the wildlands. In under a generation “let it grow” mindsets have destroyed the work of countless true stewards of the environment.

  3. Underground power lines, we have different problem not fires but no power ever time there is a storm. Hurricane or tropical .it snapped the poles. Instead of going underground last time they replaced all the poles with cement ones.. Even at that the power it’s out out one to two weeks with each storm. Transformers way up at top of poles blow up. If there were trees there would be fires. If they were at ground level we would be fine. Of course home owners again throw out all the food ,as well as grocery stores. It’s quite an unnecessary expense and uncomfortable in 95 ,100 degree weather.

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