By Debra Tash
Residents of Ventura County recently experienced the effects of a Southern California Edison’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). It was the utility’s attempt to prevent wildfires caused by their equipment/grid failures in a high wind event. Customers were left in the dark for days resulting in food spoilage, revenue loss with businesses having to close, cell phones batteries without a charge, communication limited due to cell towers being offline (PG&E), both making it hard for residents to receive alerts/updates. Without power agricultural customers could not run well pumps. Humidity being in the single digits foliage became bone-dry and there was no way to wet down orchards with irrigation thus turning those crops into kindling. The PSPS transformed Ventura County, along with our northern neighbors, into a third world country.
Add to that SCE may have started the Maria Fire on Halloween night as a result of their latest PSPS when they were re-energizing their transmission lines. This is the video from Ventura County Fire Department’s Castro monitoring camera:
In response to the mess created by the deliberate power outages and recent fires, Governor Newsom has named an “energy czar”. “‘The entire system needs to be re-imagined,’ Newsom said at a press conference.” The Sacramento Bee. Ana Matosantos, his cabinet secretary, will fill the role. Is our governor attempting a sleight of hand? He is decidedly pointing his finger at the bankrupt utility companies of Pacific Gas and Electric PG&E and Southern California Edison SCE, crying with progressive angst that the blame rests with corporate greed. It seems our current governor forgot that he and his processor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown steered California into this hole. The California Public Utilities Commission CPUC‘s five commissioners, which regulate the utilities, are governor appointees.
Did the CPUC have updating the state’s aging electrical grid as a priority, especially in the wake of the devastating Thomas, Woolsey, and Camp Fires? Climate Change seemed to have been at the top their to do list in addition to dictating to the companies they regulate to cough up low income offsets. PG&E spent “more than half a billion dollars in 2018 on electric discounts for low-income citizens and another $125 million for efficiency upgrades, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board noted in an Oct. 25 editorial. PG&E has also used $7.5 billion in allowances since 2012 to pay for reduced emissions.” The Daily Caller.
So now Sacramento will be adding another layer of bureaucracy. And as to addressing the problem with his new czar and her task force, “Newsom is asking them to determine how to make the state’s energy equipment safer, potentially by moving power lines underground or by dividing infrastructure into ‘micro-grids.'” The Sacramento Bee.
Will they address why our old growth forests haven’t been thinned or that sensible brush clearance has not been carried out?. Will they face the fact that these measures were stymied by environmental groups, even here in our area? Supervisor Linda Park’s legacy project, the 400,000 plus Wildlife Corridor, limits how much brush can be removed from vulnerable unincorporated areas of Ventura County in a so called effort to “protect” wildlife.
Can measures be taken that will keep the lights on?
Institute sensible firebreaks around the County, kept up on a yearly basis, be strategic using satellite/aerial imagery and mapping.
Mandate more than just the 100 feet of brush clearance now required around structures.
Keep sensitive electrical equipment free of combustible hazards, making certain the clearance is performed every year by the beginning of our fire season.
Thin out the forests, remove dead trees, open them up once more to logging.
Roll back green requirements on the utilities. Instead use the funds to target the most vulnerable equipment/transmission lines on the existing grid for replacement/upgrades.
Micro-grids could be put in place quickly, allowing the utility to power off only vulnerable assets during wind events and not whole circuits.
Remove/replace highly combustible landscaping. As an example, palm trees can be like roman candles and easily ignited. The cost for removal/re-landscaping can be borne by the owner because it is defense of their property.
Suspend CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, to save costs in putting the most at-risk lines underground. CEQA adds costs to projects along with delays. No matter how power is generated, green or by fossil fuels, it still has to be transmitted and that creates risk of fire during wind events.
This is an emergency. It must be done and be done now. The winds will be back and if we don’t think outside the box we will be in the dark once more.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.
Debra Tash is Editor-in-Chief of Citizensjournal.us, past president for Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, business executive and award-winning author, residing in Somis.