California's wildfire risk keeps getting worse. Now a decade of blackouts lie ahead
By Susie Cagle
In 2019, millions of Californians experienced a wildfire safety blackout, some for nearly a week at a time, as the troubled utility company Pacific Gas & Electric and other investor-owned utilities grappled with replacing one devastating disaster with another, comparatively manageable one.
2019 was not an anomaly, but the beginning of a new way of life for many California residents. While “deenergization” for fire safety has been state policy for more than a decade, it had never before been used on such a mass scale. According to utility experts, politicians and PG&E, customers can expect many more years of blackouts to come, as fire risk in California’s hills only increases.
PG&E’s post-deenergization reports to the state utilities commission showed a number of hazards after each event, from damaged lines and conductors to fallen trees. After its largest shutoff at the end of October, the utility noted more than 100 individual hazards.
“The fact that our firefighters went in and did an amazing job, learned from prior fires and got these more under control shouldn’t be a PG&E victory lap,” said [Will Abrams]. “I would argue that the shutoffs provide a disincentive for other mitigation. Because if you can just pull the power, you don’t have to do the vegetation management and the microgrids and all the other stuff you need to do.”
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