Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the utility company under investigation for potentially causing the North Bay wildfires last October, has announced that they’re enacting a series of changes in order to prevent or contain fires in California’s wine country. However, some of these changes are evidence that PG&E is behind other utility companies in California.
Some of the changes they announced include:
- Contracting out-of-state firefighters when fires break out
- Replacing wooden power poles with steel ones
- An around-the-clock wildfire response center in San Francisco
- Hundreds more weather stations to spot risky weather patterns
- Preemptive shutdown of power lines during risky weather patterns
- Reprogramming devices called “reclosers” during fire season
As good as these measures are, San Diego Gas & Electric and California Edison have reprogrammed reclosers during fire season since 2007. Preemptive shutdown of power lines is also something other utilities already do, but PG&E has historically resisted.
Suspicion Continues to Haunt PG&E Six Months Later
While the Wildfire Safety Operations Center could open as soon as next month, PG&E cannot outrun the specter of litigation and accountability in the wake of the North Bay’s destruction. The California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection have not announced the cause of the North Bay fires, but people have long believed they were caused by PG&E’s equipment.
Historically, California power lines spark when hit with high winds (like the windstorm that preceded and worsened the wildfires). They’ve also been known to start wildfires. Since the investigation started, there’s no evidence in support of other causes.
Currently, PG&E is facing over 100 lawsuits, including some filed by the counties of Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma. The total damages at stake could exceed $10 billion. Meanwhile, lawmakers are considering laws that would force utility companies to enact the changes that PG&E is planning anyway—specifically forcing companies to shut down during wildfires.
We celebrate any changes that would result in wildfire prevention, but if PG&E is responsible for the fire that destroyed homes and businesses and killed 45 people, they need to be held accountable. There’s no getting around that.