California Utility’s Plan To Prevent Wildfires Includes Shutting Off Power To 5 Million People: Report

Tim Pearce

PG&E, California’s largest utility, is reportedly considering shutting off power to as much as an eighth of Californians during times of high fire danger.

PG&E’s service area covers 5.4 million people in fire-prone areas. The utility might initiate a blackout to keep its electric lines from sparking and starting fires during high winds. The plan is tacit acknowledgement the utility cannot always fulfill its mission of providing electricity safely and reliably, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The utility is “essentially shifting all of the burden, all of the losses onto everyone else,” Dylan Feik, the former city manager of Calistoga, California, told TheWSJ.

A blackout could cost the utility’s customers a significant amount financially, as well as endangering many, such as senior citizens who are dependent on electrical medical devices.

PG&E is working to minimize the threat of cutting off power to those most vulnerable, but “we simply don’t have the luxury, given the extreme weather conditions we are seeing, to wait to get it perfect,” PG&E vice president Aaron Johnson told TheWSJ.

PG&E might keep a blackout in place for as long as five days. Households and grocery stores that store perishable goods could lose a substantial amount of food and other products, according to TheWSJ.

Utilities across California are reshaping the state’s electricity market. PG&E declared bankruptcy in January and shed over $40 billion worth of contracts, largely with green energy companies, to help get the company on more secure financial footing.

The company’s financial turmoil could have lasting effects on California’s grid as well as impede the state’s goal of attaining 100 percent green energy reliance by 2045. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in 2018 mandating the green energy goal.

As the utility has drowned in liabilities, it cut ties with its former CEO Geisha Williams in January shortly before filing for bankruptcy.

Californians are already paying some of the highest prices for electricity in the U.S. PG&E and other investor-owned utilities are asking state regulators to bump up the price of electricity even more to cover the cost of wildfire liability.

PG&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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