Saturday, November 10

Electricity or wildfire. Californians' stark choice during extreme fire weather

I'm not sure that the choice for PG&E is between safety and profits, as an attorney framed it. If the company routinely shuts off power during 'red alert' days I think a great many people in the affected areas will protest that they have a vital need for the electricity -- unless the company can pinpoint the outages to nonresidential areas, which I don't see how they can do.  An option might be to bury the power lines. But that would be very expensive, and the cost would be passed along to customers.     

PG&E: Transmission Line Issue Happened Near Origin Of Camp Fire
November 9, 2018 - 4:35 PM ET
The Associated Press via KPIX5 CBS TV San Francisco/Bay Area

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. (AP) — PG&E officials on Friday said the utility experienced a problem on a transmission line minutes before the massive Camp Fire in Butte County erupted. An electric safety incident was reported by PG&E at about 6:15 a.m. Thursday near Pulga Road in Butte County, near where the Camp Fire started. In their summary of the incident PG&E states 'PG&E experienced an outage on the Caribou-Palermo 115 kV transmission line in Butte County.'

That afternoon PG&E technicians on aerial patrol observed damage to a transmission tower on the same transmission line, approximately one mile northeast of the community of Pulga in the area of the Camp Fire.

PG&E officials noted in the report that the information is preliminary.

The utility been blamed for some of the Wine Country wildfires of October 2017 that destroyed hundreds of homes, forced the evacuation of 90,000 North Bay residents and left more than 40 people dead.

Last June the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection report determined that PG&E power lines and equipment failures were to blame for 12 of the catastrophic wildfires.[1]

PG&E has since implemented a new policy that will cut electricity to certain areas during extreme fire weather conditions.

“If their lines are involved and there’s a repeat pattern of failure to engage in risk management, then those people should go to jail,” said Frank Pitre, an attorney who has represented fire victims from San Bruno to Santa Rosa in suits against PG&E.

Speaking with KPIX 5’s Joe Vazquez, Pitre said he doesn’t understand why the utility company failed to follow through with its plan for preemptive power outages.

“To do things like shutting off power in the face of known high danger of winds and high risk of a fire … that’s courage. That’s leadership. And that’s when you put safety first above profits,” Pitre said.

The Camp Fire has killed at least nine people and destroyed thousands of homes. Paradise is 180 miles northeast of San Francisco.


1) From the report:  
Cal Fire said the 12 fires involving PG&E equipment were:
Redwood Fire, Mendocino County – tree or parts of trees falling onto PG&E power lines
Sulphur Fire, Lake County – power pole failure; power lines and equipment coming in contact with the ground
Cherokee Fire, Butte County – tree limbs coming into contact with PG&E power lines
37 Fire, Sonoma County – electrical; associated with the PG&E distribution lines in area
Blue Fire, Humboldt County – power line conductor separates from connector, falling to ground
Norrbom Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties – tree falling onto power lines
Adobe Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties – tree falling onto power line
Patrick Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties – tree falling onto power line
Pythian Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties – downed powerline
Nuns Fire, Sonoma, Napa Counties – part of tree breaking, contacting power line
Pocket Fire, Sonoma County – part of tree breaking, contacting power line
Atlas Fire – Napa County – large tree limb, tree falling onto power line in separate locations
The report has lots more information but it looks to me as if all but one of the incidents could have been due to wind events, which can be at hurricane or near-hurricane force during the annual 'Diablo' or Santa Ana winds. Add bone dry vegetation, a spark from a transmission line, and presto! catastrophic wildfire. 


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