>The utility goes on to state that its Caribou-Palermo 115 kilovolt (kV) transmission line deenergized approximately 15 minutes before a PG&E employee observed a fire in the vicinity of a tower on the line. In addition, "a suspension insulator supporting a transposition jumper had separated from an arm" on the tower in question."
Mechanical failure of a suspension insulator in the absence of something physically falling on it is a very rare occurrence, and would only plausibly occur if the insulator is well outside its normal service life. To me this points to inadequate maintenance. We're talking about equipment that already has a 30-year service life and a miniscule failure rate. Obviously, there will be more detailed investigation to come. But PG&E doesn't look good here, and unless they can show they were inspecting and maintaining that line in accordance with normal industry practices, they are going to get nailed for this.
> Mark Toney, a consumer advocate with The Utility Reform Network, told the I-Team, "They promised to fix it in 2013, they promised to fix it in 2014 and 2015 and 2016, it is not fixed today and that is the line that failed before the fire."
What about one or more bullets being shot at it, as numerous locals have stated happened?
One random source (Thanks Duckduckgo!): https://www.utilitydive.com/news/california-approves-bill-to...
> California courts use a "strict liability" interpretation of the doctrine that holds utilities accountable for wildfires caused by their equipment, even if a company is not found negligent.
* Imagine a company spills 50,000 litres of oil into a river. You don't have to prove what happened or anyone's motivation for doing it, just that the oil was in the river and it came from their facility.
So far the only source I've seen for this is PG&E's own report, which found bullet holes on the pole and on some other equipment nearby, but didn't establish the age of the holes or that they in any way contributed to the fire.
Considering that there are already a couple of experienced law firms shopping their services to affected residents, and that 100% liability for PG&E represents their best chance of financial recovery, I'd be quite surprised if residents were going around saying, "...uh, yeah, so actually we did that one to ourselves."
It's hard for PG&E to argue against this when they are willing to spend millions on lobbyists after the fire knowing full well the event may mean regulations that closely resemble what the natural gas utilities have to follow.
Deferred maintenance is typical in the utility world. You look at the item being maintained and the criticality and safety of it and determine if it can be deferred. In something like a transmission line, maintenance should not be deferred as the knock on effects are far greater than say a small transformer on a city block.
In the utility world there are a lot of software options to help you manage your assets and do preventative maintenance of those assets. I am sure a deeper investigation will look to see if those tools were being used and if they were properly being audited.
I've heard from co-workers in California that PG&E has routinely been regulated to keep prices at a certain level, and this has hampered their ability to perform proper maintenance. Is this a remotely fair assessment, or grossly incorrect?
However, this doesn't prevent PG&E from performing the appropriate maintenance on their equipment. That fault lies with the policies of upper management. CPUC is well aware of PG&E's obligations to maintain their equipment and regularly audits them and has made hay in the past about PG&E's reactive approach to maintenance .
The people who bring up the regulation of retail prices tend to be the ones who have an ideological love for deregulating everything. That's the wrong hammer for this particular screw and hasn't worked out so well in the past.
FWLIW, I definitely haven't dug into their books, so maybe they're cutting fat checks to execs in lieu of this stuff.
They just have to justify their rate increases. All PG&E had to do, years ago, was tell the CPUC, "we've identified a massive maintenance backlog and we need to raise our residential rates __% to clear it."
You can see this in action now, at https://www.pge.com/en_US/about-pge/company-information/regu..., where PG&E has filed a new publicly-available 2020-2022 rate increase request:
> This GRC proposal will help bolster wildfire prevention, risk monitoring and emergency response. It will also add new and enhanced safety measures, increase vegetation management, and harden our electric system to increase resilience and help further reduce wildfire risk.
> Every three years, PG&E submits the GRC, a proposal for funding its core gas and electric operations. The CPUC conducts an open and transparent review of PG&E's proposal.
The CPUC, in turn, has to deal with angry residents and lobbyists from multiple industries.
You can find reporting from a rate substantial rate increase four years ago, at https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93303&page=1
I think the quote from PG&E spokesman Keith Stephens in the SF Chronicle article I linked two comments up pretty well sums up where fault lies here:
"As we moved from more of a 'monitor only and fix when we can' process, we were much more focused on getting work done,"
PG&E's maintenance strategy for years -- set by management, not by a lack of funds or prohibition against rate increases -- was, "wait until it becomes a problem." CPUC regulators started investigating it around 2008, found a huuuuuuuge maintenance backlog, and then PG&E said, "oh, yeah, our new strategy now is to try to catch up on some of this stuff."
I know that rate hikes are heavily protested by citizens, so maybe there's some sort of political infeasibility? That would certainly be a mark against a gov't run critical service -- maybe it's really hard (near impossible) to raise rates to cover required maintenance.
So the regulators failed to monitor and enforce maintenance on the PG&E transmission lines, but they also are the only solution because you say so?
Just about every utility goes through a rate case with the local/county/state governments where they make the arguments for an increase in utility rates. This usually takes into account capital spending and new or significantly improved infrastructure to justify a rates increase.
In my early teens my family moved to rural northern Idaho and my dad decided one day to burn some of the brush on our land to clean it up. Well, being from a much more suburban setting we didn't know that that's a real no-no that time of year. The fire got out of control and started burning into the trees and my mom, brothers, and I frantically fought it with hoes and buckets of water while dad tried to plow over it with the bulldozer (we didn't have a phone and this was an hour drive from a fire department). Anyway, we finally got it put out before it got into the national forest bordering our property on the east. Very very scary.
A week later there was a lightning strike fire in the national forest which ended up burning several hundred acres.
Okay, so an arsonist sets off a massive wildfire. Should they not be found at fault? Surely the fire would've barely burned at all if it weren't for the conditions.
Nobody disputes that conditions were a contributing factor. On the contrary, that's why it was more important than usual to prevent sources of ignition as much as possible. It wasn't a lightning strike, it wasn't a hot muffler, it wasn't arson, it was PG&E's equipment that ignited the fire that destroyed an entire community, and that equipment failure was the direct result of their chronic poor maintenance.
I think the comments here are quite civilized all things considered. PG&E has a long history of poor equipment maintenance and has been the proximate cause for numerous environmental disasters. They are responsible for the deaths of over a hundred people over the last few years, the endangerment of thousands more, the displacement of tens of thousands more, and the destruction of multiple communities.
No action currently being taken against them is inappropriate under the circumstances.
I just feel like the punishment should fit the crime (failing to maintain equipment) and should be fair (apply to all companies who fail to maintain their equipment). Turning them into a scapegoat just because we're out for blood doesn't sit right with me.
Arson implies mal-intent and is a totally different thing. Not understanding the connection?
These solutions are not difficult. Lives are on the line.
There was a big fire on my street last night in New York. The city has a ton of old dumpy buildings.
It's also easy to suggest that these costs and inspections could be "free market" attributed to the insurer.
Because those problems you listed sound like money problems, which in California makes me think of Prop 13 as the likely culprit.
Making your utility state run risks the the same "not our money" and "what are they gonna do, fire the whole department" issues that cause police department to hire trigger-happy jerks who kill people and leave the town with the bill.
True for the US federal government, less true for US state governments, and pretty much not at all true for governments subordinate to US state governments, for reasons which should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.
> Making your utility state run risks the the same "not our money" and "what are they gonna do, fire the whole department" issues that cause police department to hire trigger-happy jerks who kill people and leave the town with the bill.
I think you have misattributed the cause; the cause of that (where it is endemic rather than an error that the department really is trying to avoid but sometimes failing) is that the voting citizens actually want trigger-happy jerks in the police department (because they largely see the police department as a weapon aimed at oeople they dislike) and the bills that they get stuck with as a result are insufficient to dissuade them from that preference (this is helped because local taxes that pay for those bills tend to be weighted away from the local voting population, whether by being regressive—leveraging the income/political participation correlation—or by sweeping local-activity by non-locsl residents into its base.)
But even privileged political elites probably want their electric utility to function VB reliably and not burn down wide swathes of the state.
Disagree fully, especially in one party states. In the federal government if you department is perpetually crap there's always a risk some senator will make cleaning you up their shtick. In state government unacceptable performance seems to be tolerated and allowed to continue indefinitely.
The risk for state governments (particularly after the passage of—or, more precisely, after the courts started giving effect to the due process clause of—the 14th Amendment, though this wasn't entirely absent previously) is that they will be held accountable by the federal government.
> In the federal government if you department is perpetually crap there's always a risk some senator will make cleaning you up their shtick.
That's also true in state government.
> In state government unacceptable performance seems to be tolerated and allowed to continue indefinitely.
I think that what you are really saying is that there are states whw
ere the participating electorate has different standards for what is acceptable, or at least important, than you do, no different from a commercial market where the mass of actively participating customers don't share your priorities.
Also, many species of trees require fire to split open their cones (e.g., Lodge Pole Pines) and other species of plants need fire for germination (e.g. Manzanita). Ponderosa Pines have thick bark for the purpose of surviving fires -- now the fires are too hot. Look at forest pictures in Central Oregon from 120 years ago -- you could drive a car thru since there was not a lot of debris on the forest floor. Fires used to be a good thing. Native Americans would even manage fires with controlled burns.
Now all fires are completely destructive!
Source: Dad was a research scientist for US Forest Service.
My family used to go and collect wood from such an area: the policy was to pull all the downed trees and scrub into piles. The forest service allowed people to take wood for free from these piles. What was left was burned, after people took the good logs and it dried out. I still visit this place regularly, and the policy is still the same.
It's become harder to do controlled burns, because in drought conditions, the season where it is safe to do so has become short to non-existent.
I think this argument is popular because it is a way to blame "liberal" environmental policy for the fires.
So the challenge in SoCal is keeping an ecosystem intact with such frequent burns. And that our current fire suppression ability is not nearly enough.
I kind of actually feel a bit for PGE here, while they are definitely wrong, it was not their choice to not follow guidelines on 'defensible space' for the town, and its roads.. The main roads out of town had vegetation right up to the edges of the roads. how is that safe?
Im pretty sure the primary appeal would be failure of widereaching goverment policy, versus climate change.
As many people have said, the state of infrastructure in this country is not amazing. When New York City got hit by Sandy, power was off for a week. There was a single point of failure with no replacement stocked; for the largest and most dense city in the country. ConEd doesn't care. Maintaining basic infrastructure is the least glorious thing anyone can do right now, and people treat it that way. The results can be deadly.
California is dry. They knew it.
California is drier because of global warming. They also knew it.
Ultimately, this is about the fact that ensuring their equipment is safe (by clearing brush and trees around their lines, etc.) is under their responsibility. And if I got the reporting on this right, they cut corners in doing so.
It's quite normal for this area to get next to no rainfall from Memorial day into October.
Let's just turn this into a completely publicly owned utility, focus on modernization, and be done with it.
Remember the neighborhood that quite literally exploded?
That's a bad idea if you want accountability in the event of a disaster because then the taxpayers are still ultimately on the hook. Making it a government organization all but guarantees government bailout in the event of a disaster. Better to just make PG&E pay (if it does turn out to be their fault) and then roll with whatever happens.
Where does the money come from? You either raise prices (taxpayers are pissed) or subsidize from the general fund (taxpayers are pissed).