Lights Out

PG&E serves 70,000 square miles of diverse terrain. Much of Monterey County is rated for “elevated” fire risk and part is “extreme.”

Wildfire season has begun again. On May 30, Cal Fire firefighters quickly stopped the Dudley Fire, which burned 13.5 acres near San Ardo. On June 2, they contained the Vineyard Fire, near Bradley, at 32 acres. In between, they monitored the Gabilan Mountain range after multiple lightning strikes.

On May 15, Cal Fire announced findings that made official something long suspected: After a “very meticulous and thorough investigation,” they confirmed the Camp Fire, which began in November in Butte County, was caused by electrical transmission lines owned by Pacific Gas & Electric. It was California’s most destructive and deadliest fire, killing 85 people.

Facing tens of billions of dollars worth of wildfire-related damages – plus other uncertainties in the electricity marketplace, such as the rise of the community choice aggregation model, including Monterey Bay Community Power – PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January.

The company is bracing not just for financial fallout, but the next fire season. PG&E’s 179-page 2019 Wildfire Safety Plan includes a major expansion of Public Safety Power Shutoff, in which PG&E preemptively shuts off the power during fire-prone conditions, chiefly low humidity and high winds. Last year PG&E launched the program and this year is scaling up, from 373 to 5,500 circuit miles of transmission lines. “PG&E is significantly expanding the program scope,” the plan states.

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PG&E representatives are holding community meetings throughout the state in the coming months to talk about what to expect with power shutoffs and other initiatives, such as drone monitoring of transmission lines; a Monterey County meeting has not yet been scheduled.

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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