Sunday, 28 November 2021

Calkins: Why PG&E?

I am wondering why there is such an aggressive attitude towards Pacific Gas and Electric after the horrific fires we have experienced.

Nothing I discuss is in any way questioning or attempting to minimize the terrible losses experienced by thousands of our Northern California neighbors as a result of these terrible wildfires.

I would like to define the causes of these wildfires in a manner that I believe most would not question. In simple terms these wildfires result from:

1) Forest lands, brush, in other words “fuel” that is dry and ready to ignite. This fuel is ready to burn for many reasons: drought years (an act of God), excessive density due to stopping or preventing the controlled fires and cutting that properly “manage” the forests (an act of government and those of us that want to live in the forest and want no fires or cutting), excessive dead trees due to infestation by beetles and other insects that prey on unmanaged forests and trees. Basically, both from weather extremes and lack of management the west has millions of acres of fuel waiting for wildfire.

2) Wind and low humidity. Most significant wildfires in northern or southern California occur when we have significant offshore winds (drying, blowing from land to sea). Low humidity, dry fuels waiting to burn, and gusty winds usually exceeding 50 mph create a perfect storm waiting for a spark. These winds and low humidity are typically agreed to be an act of God.

3) To be fair, I must acknowledge that many (almost half of our scientific community) believe that manmade climate change (aka global warming) has a significant influence on items 1 and 2 above. Climate change could be either a result of sun/natural activity (another act of God) or could be a result of our use of fossil fuels (aka driving a SUV). If this is a factor it could be God or us, but not PG&E.

4) When we have the conditions described in 1 and 2 we are vulnerable for a wildfire. The dry fuel and dry winds are just waiting for a spark to provide combustion. An elderly lady with improperly installed electrical components created a spark and caused the deadly Tubbs fire devastating parts of Santa Rosa. A failure on a trailer being towed by local citizens created a spark that caused the deadly Carr fire in Redding. An improperly installed spa resulted in a spark that caused the deadly Valley fire in Lake County. PG&E acknowledged that they had incidents with their power lines near Paradise that could have sparked the deadly Camp fire, the final judgement is not yet available. The lawyers are available. The point is that a spark from anywhere will start a wildfire when conditions as described in 1 and 2 exist.

As the facts show, the originator of the “spark” is not totally responsible for the devastation, others causing the volatile conditions share in the blame (e.g. God).

One could argue that someone or something will create a spark, sparks happen all the time, in most situations the spark (e.g. from your lawnmower) results in nothing, when the conditions are perfect (or terrible) the results are devastating.

The media and the lawyers (and our state) do not seem to isolate the lady who sparked the Tubbs fire or the trailer owners who sparked the Carr fire or the spa owner that sparked the Valley fire as being totally and intentionally responsible for death and calling them murderers (as they do PG&E). They do share some blame along with God and climate change, but we can all understand that the wildfires are complex with shared causes.

Why do we treat PG&E differently? Deep pockets? Or is it more complex? I have been a PG&E customer for 77 years, I only wish all companies I deal with have performed as well while providing critical services to all of us. Yes, I have called them on stormy nights to restore my power.

Breaking up, or breaking down PG&E will likely result in less safety, poorer service, and higher rates. Especially if our state government gets involved in managing these services. If we want to change something, let’s look at the PUC that directs utilities such as PG&E, improvement is needed there. PG&E is getting a bum rap.

Ed Calkins lives in Kelseyville, Calif.

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