Grant Schwall

California planned blackouts to stop wildfires aims to save lives, not money. A student responds to Jonah Jellesed's opinion piece in a letter to the editor.

In response to Jonah Jellesed’s Oct. 23 article concerning the Pacific Gas and Electric Company and their proposed (and current) blackouts in Northern California, I would argue that while inconvenient and costly, the ultimately blackouts serve their intended purpose rather than some conspiracy for PG&E to try to scam its customers and dig themselves out of bankruptcy.

Wildfires (at least at the capacity we see today) are relatively new to the North Bay, however the region is still feeling the effects of the 2017 Tubbs fire rather than the 2018 Camp Fire as stated in the article. Butte County, which was affected by the Camp Fire, is roughly 100 miles northeast as the crow flies of the Bay Area.

As I write, the Kinkade fire burns Sonoma County, sparked by PG&E’s power lines, downed once again by high winds, this time from within the Geothermal Geysers operated by Calpine. It’s once again a scary time for residents of the county, with more than 90,000 people evacuated, and thousands of acres burned. As a resident of Sonoma County I have no problem with PG&E cutting power to its lines, as the “basically a little too windy” conditions cited in the article have turned out to be 80-103 mph hurricane force gusts of wind in the hills that can spread embers miles and create even more problems for firefighters. PG&E has worked hand in hand with city officials over the summer to administer its blackouts in the most safe and efficient way possible. It should also be noted that while PG&E may be saving money by not supplying energy, it is spending a large sum on linesmen and workers who have to check all power lines before they are brought back online following a blackout. Decommissioning a complete power grid is not an easy or a cheap thing to do, as it goes far beyond a simple flip of a switch and the process to bring power back is also costly and labor intensive.

To answer the reporter’s question as to whether the shutdowns have anything to do with PG&E’s recent bankruptcy filing, I’m sure the answer is yes, but is not for the reason the reporter stated. Though protecting themselves from liability is I’m sure part of their plan, it’s important to remember that the damages done in the fires in the last years were to their own customers’ businesses, homes and property and any effort to try to reduce that damage is worth the inconvenience. According to the Press Democrat, “preventing catastrophic wildfires is the “sole intent” of the utility’s power shut off program.” While protecting themselves from liability they are also protecting their customers from harm. It should also be noted that a home or business pays for the power it uses, so if the power is shut off, they’re not paying for it, so any claim that PG&E is using these blackouts to somehow boost their bottom line is simply false.

In dangerous times, extreme measures have to be taken, and the safety of the residents of northern California is vastly more important than the inconveniences PG&E customers face. It comes down to a simple question: would you rather have a house without power or no house at all? Though PG&E has admitted there are shortcomings to their plan, ultimately, they're trying their best to limit the number of fires started in these dangerous conditions which is a worthy purpose. 

Grant Schwall is a junior.

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