Fire and Blackouts: How Does Government Respond?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

With the devastating fires and difficult widespread blackouts plaguing California the state’s investor owned utilities are in a world of trouble. No solution will be easy to the projected decade of darkness offered by the head of Pacific Gas & Electric before the problem is fixed.

He won’t have that long. The governor and legislature and local governments will come up with plans and remedies, whether correct and prudent or not, to intervene. Public pressure will force government officials to do something.

Public ownership of utility lines or of the utilities themselves is now an open part of the discussion as officials in San Francisco and San Jose have raised the possibility of taking over PG&E assets. I raised the concern of municipal owned utilities after the Camp Fire and with the new catastrophes dealing with not only fires but blackouts on a frequent basis into the foreseeable future the threat of government takeover only grows.

In responding to the crisis and hoping to find a remedy, government should do a little self-examination to see how much its mandates on the investor owned utilities handicapped them and contributed to the problem of managing power lines susceptible to potentially sparking fires.

PG&E has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to satisfy government requirements to deal with emission reductions and enhancing opportunities for alternative energy. Transition to alternative energies will and should happen but at what pace? California sets end dates to get there while the technology is not yet in place—storage for alternative energy as an example—the utilities push ahead as required while ignoring responsibilities they have to keep the power lines safe.

Is there a plan and resources for government officials to not only keep up the move to alternative energies and at the same time upgrade the power grid, especially burying power lines underground to prevent fires?

Utility ratepayers have already been hit to pay for some of the mandates on utilities required of them by government. If the portfolio of power managers is increased under a government takeover of the utilities, the increased cost burdens will fall not only on the ratepayers but the general taxpayers as well.

The problems are great and the solutions have yet to present themselves in a workable way.

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