Behind the Utility-Induced Blackouts


By Richard Eber

With the threat of high winds igniting wildfires in California, the two largest utilities Southern California Edison & Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E)  in the name of public safety, have cut power to over one million customers throughout the State.

Given what has transpired we have to ask:

  1. Are the utilities trying to protect their clients’ safety or are they attempting to limit their liability if wildfires break out caused by equipment failure?
  1. By causing inconvenience and loss of revenue to many businesses, are Edison and PG&E sending a less than subtle message to the legislature that they want protection from liability for similar disasters as last year in the future?
  1. In the Socialistic State of California does government believe they can do a better job than private industry in delivering power to homes and businesses than private industry can?

In answering these questions there are a lot of angry people.  Some of the same folks who were condemning PG&E last year for causing widespread damage with The Tubbs and Camp Fire’s, are unhappy that they had their power cut this week in the name of safety.  In dealing with high wind situations are the utilities in California in a no win situation where “Nobody’s right when everyone is wrong”.

My friend Debbie from Ventura complains, “Since I was a little girl there have always been Santa Anna winds near where I live.  Why now have things changed so that Edison wants to cut off their services in the name of safety when this weather condition crops up?”

Debbie is right. The winds of change have indeed taken a new direction from public utilities when a possible disaster might occur.  Before, when an earthquake of flood has taken place, the emphasis has always been on restoring service as quickly as possible.  With the recent actions of Edison and PG&E we can see their concern for public safety to be placed in fewer situations where they might be liable to the threat of lawsuits.

It is ironic that the utilities feel their shareholders are safer turning off the lights than trying to keep them on.  Ultimately, the people of California will have to determine if the they prefer this “You got to be cruel to be kind” approach or go back to the old system where chances might have been taken to deliver power at all costs.

Given this Hobson’s Choice scenario the utility companies are currently offering their clients, it would appear they are asking Governor Newsom and the legislature to bail them out with more exemptions that protect them from legal liability when “force majeure” (acts of God & nature) situations take place.

In addition there is an antagonistic attitude towards business that currently exists in Sacramento. As such, it will be difficult for the Legislature to give the utilities protections from costly lawsuits they desire.  This is compounded by the views of several influential members of the Legislature headed by Scot Weiner (D-San Francisco) who want to have the State take over public utility operations.

What better time to do this than now while PG&E has declared bankruptcy to protect themselves from liabilities they incurred from wild fires the last couple years?  The same progressive politicians, who have increased their power over housing policy by passing SB-330 in the last legislative session, may find themselves in a position to strengthen their socialistic vision on further controlling their constituents behavior in the next couple years.

Just imagine how things will be when the “Spare the Air” director orders citizens to regulate electricity use or face criminal prosecution. 

If this is the case Southern California Edison and PG&E are not ready to surrender without a fight.  It would appear they are prepared to deliver their message of independence by showing the public what might happen if they were not around to safeguard the delivery and electricity and gas to consumers.

Along with this message is a warning of what might occur if energy delivery is turned over to politicians who advocate for the Green New Deal.  This is a radical departure from the use of fossil fuel. It places more emphasis on reducing Green House gasses than providing enough energy for air conditioners to operate during the summer.

Such a scenario as possible brownouts caused by government policy to save the environment by eliminating fossil fuels, might be a gambit that even a progressive such as Gavin Newsom might try to avoid, He undoubtedly remembers what happened to Gray Davis when the greed of Enron created an artificial shortage of energy in California resulted in rolling blackouts.

These energy-less periods were a major factor in then Governor Gray Davis being recalled from office. Certainly, Gavin Newsom would not care to share the same fate.

Given what has transpired, we are looking for this game of high stakes poker to continue between private utilities and the State of California in the coming years.  This will likely become a testing ground between the present petroleum fueled economy when it clashes with the Green New Deal-Climate Change model advocated by almost all the Democratic Presidential candidates.

As the present blackout going on in the Golden State indicates, the guinea pigs for this crucial issue in American society  are to be the people of California.  Most likely they will have to used to having  power curtailed  more often and pay the economic consequences of energy politics.

Perhaps in the future even “Roxanne” will no longer have a choice to turn off her red light without having an auxiliary generator available.  Welcome to the Green New Deal.



Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.

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William Hicks

I certainly could understood reasonable increases in my utility bills over the years, that could have upgraded the utility infrastructure, but the represented utility services chose to ignore the eventual and we have to pay for it with a lack of service.