Californian power utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is a company that is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. The company provides power to over 16 million customers in the northern two-thirds of California. It was widely blamed for destructive wildfires that struck northern California in 2017 and 2018, some of which destroyed entire towns.
Many of those fires, and particularly the most destructive Camp Fire in 2018, were judged to have been caused by PG&E’s power lines. High winds damaged lines and brought them down. Those downed lines sparked and caused fires in remote rural areas that were under drought conditions due to lack of rain. While PG&E had the power to turn off power to those lines, it adopted a policy that it would not shut off power to certain main distribution lines because that would adversely affect too many customers.
In the aftermath of the fires PG&E was held responsible for the damages and ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January of this year. Now the company has decided to be proactive in fighting fires and will shut down power when conditions are favorable to the development of major wildfires.
That time has now come, as northern California is dealing with dry conditions and the threat of major fires. As a result, PG&E began shutting down power this week to nearly 800,000 customers in 22 counties in the San Francisco Bay and San Jose area.
The company has come under criticism from many, including from Governor Gavin Newsom, but the company has stated that this is the new normal. Facing tens of billions of dollars in potential liabilities as a result of its previous actions, the company has no choice but to cut power in the face of possible future fires.
Electrical customers in northern California will just have to get used to it, even though it may take up to five days to restore power. If anyone needed another reason to get out of California, or not to move there in the first place, this is certainly it.