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Wind, Fire and Power Blackouts
The Spectator
founded 2004 by ron cruger
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 by Jon Burras
surfyogi@verizon.net
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     It is Fall and the "Santa Ana" winds have come roaring into California. These are hot, dry and ferocious wind blasts that swirl up dirt and cause major havoc. Their speed and low humidity make them feared by many, especially in fire prone areas. One spark combined with a Santa Ana wind event and disaster often strikes. This year is no different.

    As the winds have howled and the large fires have erupted this Fall there is one new phenomenon that has occurred. This new event is that the power companies responsible for distributing much needed electricity to communities have begun to turn off the electrical grid before and during a wind event. The thought is that this would prevent a line from arcing or an errant spark to set off a fire that could rage beyond control. As the electricity is being turned off during these disastrous wind events even more perilous scenarios have been occurring.

     In today's age electricity is as vital as food, shelter, water and air. We need electricity to cook our food, keep us warm, light our way and to power many medical devices to keep us alive. Electricity has become vital for our sustained survival. When the electricity is deliberately cut off we might be without power for hours or even days. Many catastrophic events might occur.

     Not only will the ice cream melt in your refrigerator but you might not be able to get to work as traffic lights might be out, subways will not run and street lighting will be non-existent. Schools might close during these events and now you have to worry about what to do with your children when you are supposed to be at work. Gas stations might not be able to pump gas as well as there might not be enough water pressure to even fight a fire as pumping stations might be off line. Your cell phone will not work. Many necessary businesses like banks and grocery stores might be closed so you will be without important services.

     Most people wish to point the finger of blame at the utility companies. These companies, whether private or public, are claiming that they need to turn off the power so that their transmission lines will not be responsible for starting a potential out of control wild fire. These pre-emptive measures we are told is to ensure the public safety and keep the state from burning up.

     The public outrage is enormous at blaming the utility companies right now for the lack of necessary power and the inconvenience that they are putting us all through. The reality is that the blame is misguided. The real blame is to be placed on insurance companies, state government officials, municipal government officials and home owners.

     In the last couple of years it was determined that a spark from an electric company's transmission line is what started several large wild fires that burned many homes and was responsible for many people's lives that were lost. In response, the utility companies have been sued and suffered large losses, (including bankruptcies), and have had to endure most of the financial strain of a large disaster. While I am not a big supporter of these large utility companies, I am a supporter of fairness. This should never have happened and utility companies should not be sued when a fire begins due to an event that is sparked by their transmission lines.

     The state of California has become a "nanny" state and would rather spend its governmental time banning plastic straws and finding more ways to take general fund money to build housing for drug addicts and alcoholics who are living on the streets. Real money should be applied to doubling or tripling our fire-fighting resources (helicopters, water dropping tankers, Super Scooper airplanes etc.) instead of the ridiculous job the governor and state legislature are currently pretending to do.

    The governor of California blames the utility companies for not spending enough money to improve their infrastructure and bury lines underground. The problem is that the state has issued a mandate that by 2045 100% of all electricity produced in California must come from renewable sources. The utility companies are following this mandate and using their funds to fulfill this renewable energy strategy rather than to make changes to existing lines.

     Homeless camps living under bridges or in open fields of public lands have often been the source of many wild fires. Liberal policies of not forcing homeless people out of these wild fire prone regions have led to many homes being burned. This is why the blame goes to state and local elected officials. They refuse to order people out of make shift camps and woefully claim "oops" when a wild fire is started in a homeless encampment. Another liberal California policy gone awry.

     Poor forest management also leads to more destructive wildfires. Dead trees and shrubs have been allowed to collect on forest floors due to naturalist policies that have increased greatly the fuel that can burn in one of these fires. Now the fires are hotter and meaner than ever with more potential fuel sources. Forest mismanagement continues to this day.

     Insurance companies should be on the hook for the losses in a fire and not a utility company. What might be needed is a national disaster policy that covers every type of disaster and you can recover one hundred percent of your losses without having to sue anyone or haggle with an insurance company. The reason we pay insurance is to mitigate risks. Either an insurance company or national disaster policy needs to be responsible for fire losses and not a utility company. Without this assurance, the utility company will have no choice but to keep cutting off the power when a wind event is eminent.

     Power companies might not say this publically but they are punishing the public for being sued. They are telling the public that if they wish to keep suing them for losses in a fire they will just cut off all services and limit most if not all of their potential risks. It makes good business sense to do so.

     Also, homeowners are to blame as well as municipalities. Small towns have continued to issue building permits in heavily wooded areas. This is just a disaster waiting to happen. People buy homes in these heavily wooded areas thinking that nothing is going to happen to them. In a high wind event brush needs to be cleared within one hundred and fifty feet of a structure. This is not normally happening as trees and brush often ride up against homes and yards creating the potential for a fire disaster.

     If you really wish to place blame then find the home owner whose palm frond or Eucalyptus branch fell on a power line igniting a spark. Track down that seven year old kid whose Mylar balloon got stuck in a transmission line creating a spark to ignite a fire. And if you were really serious drag into court "Mother Nature" herself and shame her for creating such a disastrous wind event.

     No, power companies should not be held to blame for fires and wind events. If you keep blaming them you will then continue to be cut off from power when you might need it the most. The governor and state legislature needs to stop reading the pamphlets on more ways to take away the rights of its citizens and to immediately sign a bill exempting power companies from being sued if a spark starts a wild fire. If the people of California are not willing to do that then you will continue to struggle and be without necessary power during disastrous fire events. You will continue to find your vanilla ice cream melted in the freezer and your life saving oxygen machine might not be available for you.

    We are stuck between a rock and a hard place by our own choosing. Letting utility companies off the hook for wild fire damage created by a utility line spark is the only sane method out of it. If we do not do this we will continue to punish ourselves when we need electricity the most. There is an old saying that says "Never spit into the wind." That is exactly what we are doing. We are suffering our woes because our own spit is blowing back at us. Let the power companies off the hook and find someone else to blame.