How does turning off the power in California prevent wildfires?



How does turning off the power in California prevent wildfires?


Some of the transmission lines in CA are old and poorly grounded. When things get dry in the summer, sometimes the power will arc across the insulators. If there is anything flammable in the path of the arc, it will catch fire.

Turning off the power kills the energy source for a lot of CA wildfires.

Several of the major wildfires Northern California has had have been due to sparks flying from poorly maintained electrical lines and equipment during high winds. PG&E has not done their due diligence in doing repairs and maintenance to the power lines in many areas. Many people are upset at this, because they have recently given themselves large raises. A recent judge’s ruling made it clear that PG&E were aware that they were negligent on repairs, but had still put giving themselves bonuses as a better financial priority.

So, rather than risk more wildfires, they are shutting off power to areas they feel are at risk, with less than 24 hours notice in some cases.

PG&E has done little to maintain safety of its power infrastructure. When it gets dry and windy it may produce sparks that could trigger wildfires. You might think that a power company would be obligated to not destroy whole towns via negilgence but the US is quite averse to needless regulations like that.

I’m equally interested in the answer to your question. It seems that it’s more political grandstanding than it is an actual solution, but I may be wrong. As a corollary, why isn’t harvesting trees considered as at least one of the tools to use in California? Also, why isn’t there a larger discussion about government (State and local in particular) culpability?

Even well maintained electric lines are subject to failure from high wind conditions, often from trees. That isn’t a contradiction. A utility can only legally cut the trees within its right of way. When they do, they literally are often met with physical threats, lawsuits, and even firearms (I’ve seen all this at the utility I worked for). Then when it DOES catch fire, the same property owners start pointing fingers and looking for blame. I’m not defending PG&E because I have no idea what their maintenance situation is, but I know we were very proactive about clearing trees and it was THE most stressfull job at the utility. On top of that, the ROW easement often isn’t enough. We had a 20 foot wide easement for a line that went through a pine forrest. The trees were easily 50 feet taller than the 30 foot line, so even with perfectly clear easements, trees from outside the ROW cause a lot of the outages. And there is no way the homeowner is going to allow you to clear a 100 foot easement. PG&E could have had the most well maintained system in the world and this still could have happened.