With proper engineering and maintenance, PG&E could probably reduce the frequency of fires significantly, but there's always going to be a non-zero risk of fire, both from power lines and other sources, and it seems basically inevitable that one of them would have started another fire at some point. If this failure hadn't happened, and the same fire had happened a year later due to an "excusable" cause (like a tree falling on a line, or someone's house catching on fire), would that outcome have been any better?
PG&E does ultimately have some responsibility, due to the fact that they were the immediate cause, but it really seems like people want to blame PG&E for the entire situation while avoiding the much harder truth: that this area will likely never be safe without significant policy changes (if ever).
I don’t understand. You’re conceding that if PG&E were a competent and responsible company they could significantly reduce the rate of fires. The fact that some fires might still happen doesn’t mean that 10 fires aren’t better than 1,000 fires.
For instance the Beirut explosion was the fault from the welders causing the explosion. Yes, but the larger and more important issue is why are there so many explosives in the first place? California's mismanagement with it's forest is the same issue. These forests should be periodically burned the remove rather than letting them accumulate into such a large blazing fire.
The majority (57%) of forest land in California is managed by the federal government even before considering the part managed by tribal governments, which are also out of state control though subject to federal oversight. Only 3% is directly under state control.
47.7% of the total land in California is federally owned (not uncommon in the West, where most federal land is; outside of 12 Western states, the Federal government owns only 4% of the land in the rest of the country.)
Western land management problems are, generally, problems of federal administration, not state government.
EDIT: But, it's important to note I am not saying the fires involving PG&E equipment are a federal problem rather than a PG&E problem. While the current federal administration and their cheerleaders likes to blame forest management and seems blind to the fact that, if true, that would be a federal issue, PG&E’s deliberate, knowing cutting of maintenance corners, curtailing inspections and cutting inspector training, knowingly leaving specific faulty equipment in place years after it was identified as faulty and dangerous, and covering up that it did all those things, are well documented. While they accepted a plea bargain to 84 counts of manslaughter, the facts documented in the investigation would seem to more than support conviction of 2nd degree murder (of the “abandoned and malignant heart” type), based on other cases where that has been applied in CA based on willful disregard of safety factors.
Personally, I do think that PG&E should have seen a harsher punishment. If some pyro had went in and started the same fire, they'd have been in jail for life. PG&E does this shit and they got a slap on the wrist.
But, your point is very valid. This place was a tinderbox. They were one lightning strike, on cigarette butt, one illegal bonfire away from going up in flames spectacularly.
The federal government has blame for not maintaining land.
Beyond that, they have blame for not aggressively addressing climate change (which has contributed to the level of dryness).
All of this points to a common societal issue. Rather than spend money to fix things, we wait until everything blows up before asking questions.
This shit scares me. How much more of our world is teetering on the edge of catastrophe?
If power companies what to run lines through these areas they need to take responsibility for what’s going to happen.
Are you buying? It's really easy to justify spending other peoples money if you make everything about life and death.
I agree that the forests should be managed differently, but if this being "California's mismanagement" is an actual thing as opposed to political disinformation, I'd love to see a couple links to back it up.
Some quick googling suggests that it's mostly a Federal problem, which has very different implications especially right now. Am I wrong?
I think what's interesting, and a real problem, is that all reasons about causes of the fires is seen as a political stance, when the factual causes of the fires should be not a political issue.
All of these things are true. They're not political statements:
1. CA mismanaged its forests by not doing proper controlled burns
2. Climate change making conditions ripe for fires
3. PG&E was negligent in maintaining its infrastructure
But people want to assign the blame to either #1 or (#2 and #3), and by doing that they are implicitly taking a political stance.
It's not productive and makes finding robust solutions to these problems harder.
That's highly debatable.
> They're not political statements:
At least the first is a political judgement.
> 1. CA mismanaged its forests by not doing proper controlled burns
The vast.majority of the first within the State are not subject to state management; 3% of the forest land is controlled by the state or administrative subdivisions. 57% of forest land in the state (and 47.7% of total land area of the state) is directly controlled by the federal government and some of the rest by federally-but-not-state supervised tribal governments. In between there is some private land which the state has less control over than the state-owned land but more than the federally-controlled land from which it is excluded from management. So even if there was mismanagement by the state, there's very limited potential impact.
> 2. Climate change making conditions ripe for fires
This is true.
> 3. PG&E was negligent in maintaining its infrastructure
This understates the case; PG&E was between grossly reckless and actively malicious in maintaining it's infrastructure.
If CA was requesting that the federal govt do controlled burns to better protect their citizens from wildfires, and the fed govt refused, then you would have a point, but from the research I’ve done (and I cited 3 random examples above) that’s not what happened. In fact it’s the opposite where organizations which controlled the land desperately wanted to perform prescribed burns, but were prevented from doing so because of local regulations.
As far as #1 being a political judgment: That you think #1 is false and 2 and 3 are true, one can guess how you feel about a host of other political issues, most have which have absolutely nothing to do with forest management.
It’s also not clear to me that - regardless of the party in question - it is fair to call it mismanagement unless credentialed people had pointed out the risk of not allowing controlled burns and the government insisted on doing them anyway because of different priorities, aka mismanagement.
They are actively killing the native forests by over zealous fire suppression and lack of controlled burns. Environmentalism in name only - sound and fury signifying nothing.
Over 50% of forest land in the state, but almost 50% of the total land area of the state.
This is fairly common in the West and wildly different from the situation outside of the West.
There is such a thing as a multi domain fault.
He never said this wasn't PG&E's fault, just that out of 100% they don't bear all the fault.
I mean, California is in the middle of burning down from a lighting complex at this moment. Suing mother nature isn't going to do much good if you want to put the blame on her for that fire.
As long as people live in the Wildland Urban Interface, and we live in a climate that's getting hotter and drier year over year, and we don't have defense in depth around our homes, houses are going to continue to burn and people will die from it.
At the end of the day we cannot stop the fires, they are a natural part of the landscape. The question is can we reduce the impact on humans? Some we cannot, the smoke will still affect us negatively. Some we can, a hard parameter around our house with no flammable bushes, and eves that protect against cinder build up that set houses on fire will help.
An extreme analogy: if a car is built in a way that a fender-bender causes a fire, how much of that is on the person who cause the fender-bender? Fender-benders are preventable by better driving, but the consequences were massively exaggerated because the car was unsafe.
The PG&E example isn't this clear but if the severity of the fires is substantially caused by poor forest management—an empirical question to which I do not know the answer—then it's clear that PG&E should not shoulder the entire blame. We're still left with the thorny question of how much blame they deserve (certainly not none), but the rhetoric I see around it is using the company as a scapegoat to let the CA and federal government avoid taking any responsibility at all.
: I don't know if the Ford Pinto was actually this bad, but this is a hypothetical example anyway :).
In the fender-bender example, I can see how you would structure your logic the way you have. As an example of how I and others might structure it: The car causes the accident when a wheel falls off, and the accident happens to happen where there was a prior gas spill. The presence of the gas spill is unfortunate, but the car caused the accident, and that should never happen with good design and maintenance. The accident was exacerbated by the presence of gas, causing a fire and injury and death, etc.
Now, to bring it full circle. Replace a car with a train (the situation is largely under the control of a single company), the accident with a train falling off the rails and hitting a gas pipeline, AND the company knew the gas pipeline was there, and knew the danger all along, and still managed to not put on a proper maintenance plan to ensure the train didn't derail especially in a place that has a gas pipeline right there.
We are talking about what ought to be, not what is. The law falls under the category of is, and does not imply ought. I think everyone in the conversation understands that PG&E bears some amount of legal liability for these fires.
We’ve completely screwed up our planet.
Climate change makes the problem worse, but the fact is fires are a natural part of the regional ecology.
If we keep looking at fires as one problem with one cause, we will keep dying in fires and losing houses.
The elements of that blew game I got are "climate change makes weather warmer and drier, which increases risk" question about that Mr. Trump said "California is terrible in clearing out the forests" to which it is being responded "we need funding and many forests are federal forests" always good to work on blaming for the past, not to work on a solution for the future ...
There are two narratives here. The Democrats want to blame Climate Change. Republicans want to blame California's mismanagement. Both are correct but there is no policy that any government could implement that will solve climate change in the next few decades. But you literally have Biden going around and blaming Trump for these fires when there is no climate policy that United States could have implemented in the last 2 decades that would have made any difference.
On the other hand, regardless of climate change, California has implemented policies that created this problem and California can implement policies that will prevent future wildfires from spreading out of control. But California is a mess. Controlled burns are constantly challenged in court by activists and NIMBYs and bogged down by environmental regulations. California needs to perform controlled burns of around a million acres of land, but is doing something on the order a few thousand even with a backlog of 20 million acres. Logging policy has clear-cut forest replaced with dense bush. And bad vegetation management policy has been the mantra for decades in California.
In this case, the Democrats are wrong and are engaging in outright lying in order to deflect blame. Climate change is an important issue, but climate change policy is not going to result in a solution for these wildfires.
>Some quick googling suggests that it's mostly a Federal problem
How? How is this a federal problem?
If the federal government wants better forest management in the National Forests, they should increase funding for forest management and hire more employees into the US Forest Service.
You can certainly blame California for allowing people to build homes at the wildland urban interface and for not requiring homeowners to take better fire defensibility measures. The forests are a more complicated issue and the feds take much of the blame.
If Trump drastically increases the budget to the USFS and starts a new and improved forest management program, I will gladly applaud the effort. Sadly, I doubt that will happen.
Newsom relies on blaming PG&E and Global Warming; he seems to be the political version of the Deep Pockets Theory.
Neither politician offers help for people whose homes are in imminent danger.
I'm actually very surprised we haven't heard him blame the feds.
But, to make matters worse, the baseline expected rate of fires is higher due to climate change, and is much higher due to PG&E negligence.
We can and should attack all factors with regulation, maintenance policy change, etc. The fact is, we had maintenance policies for PG&E's portion, and they were negligent.
Yes. But we can't control the climate. Or rather climate change will require policies spanning decades or centuries.
>and is much higher due to PG&E negligence
Sure. PG&E should be held accountable for their part. But to mark them as a cause is not right. California was a tinderbox waiting for a spark to start the explosion. It could have been anything, and in fact, there were many 'sparks' that started a bunch of these fires. You make PG&E the scapegoat, you're going to miss the true culprit - bad vegetation management.
Hence my question: do you need the New York Times to say it before you’ll believe it’s not “political disinformation?”
Which bryan0 and zbrozek helpfully provided. I still call it disinformation coming from the President, but these sources do help make clear what CA's shared culpability here is. And no, I don't need it to be the NYT.
I think it was reasonable to ask for the backup, and the fact it was given makes me think at least some people agree. I absolutely give people here the benefit of the doubt about their good intentions, but there is a context right now of national political figures working against science, often by repeating lies that might sound reasonable to some at first.
I hope that helps clear up the question of sentiment.
In general, the study contends that the fires are fuel-dominated (too much forest) and not wind-dominated fires. It also contends that the California drought climate has contributed significantly to the problem.
> On the timber-rich interior US Forest Service (USFS) forests of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, anomalously large fuel loading due to a century of successful fire suppression and timber harvesting practices has been a dominant factor
The problem is likely too much forest at these level of droughts, so forest management bears some responsibility. Economically speaking though if PG&E has been given such a lucrative business opportunity as a sanctioned monopoly, they ought to be held responsible as well.
Also, the part that is not clear to me and I would appreciate if someone has an answer - speaking cynically, if PG&E as a private company causes damage and tax payers pay, and if PG&E as a state run company causes damage and tax payers pay, why do I care who runs it? Is it just that the prevailing politics in California is that corporate=bad and civic=good?
> Plus I don’t see how this is strictly a California problem
Indeed it is not just a California problem. Believe it or not, there are other places in the country that do more controlled burns and manage fires better. The US Southeast burns nearly 2x the acreage as California on an annual basis.
The US Southeast has a land area of 580,000mi², California is 163,000mi². So, just to be even as a proportion of land area, the former would need to burn 3.5 times the acreage of the latter on an annual basis. Unless your claim is that California’s problem is that its controlled burns are too extensive, I'm not sure what your point is.
Then you should have said that.
And, to the extent you believe that's a problem, you should probably address the entity that controls most forest land in California (and directly owns and excludes from state control almost half of the total land of the state.) Their executive HQ can be contacted at:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
There are similar problems with homes on beaches and in flood plains. Not only is private home ownership allowed, it's federally subsidized via the National Flood Insurance program.
It's true that there are natural factors at play here, but in the case of Beirut, that might be more akin to asking "why is there such a large market for ammonium nitrate?"
Where I'm from in NorCal it's all National Forest except for the parts that are private land.
A quick search indicates that some 58% of California forest is managed by the Feds and about 3% by the state.
So -- in addition to PG&E being at fault, shouldn't we be talking about Washington more than Sacramento here?
However, I don't think the fault should lie with them because something was going to start a fire and they just happened to be the unlucky bunch stuck holding the match. There is no way you could say "if it wasn't for their negligence there wouldn't have been a fire."
This thread is going in circles. What people are saying is that PG&E should be expected to do what's required of them to maintain their equipment, and that failing to maintain their equipment was a cause of this specific fire. You're right, it's basically bad luck that their decades of negligence led to this disaster, but it still did lead to it. Whether or not there was a pre-existing condition that made fires more likely.
Again going back to the Beirut Explosion analogy -- yes the welders could have taken better precautions. Perhaps someone could have maintained the explosives better too. Maybe we could even hire firefighters on standby and install alarms next to the port.
But none of this removes the large pile of explosives that shouldn't be placed there.
That doesn't remove the onus on land management to engage in best forestry practices, but PG&E still has a significant burden of responsibility.
But a big reason the welders aren’t the focus of the blame is that they were the first ones to die in the explosion.
The consequences for PG&E were simply 4 millions here, which is a ridiculously small amount.
Also, you don’t treat individuals and companies the same way.
No, two things can be true at the same time.
1) CA sucks at forest management.
2) PG&G was grossly negligent in maintaining their power lines.
That both happened to be true at the same time just happened to be exponentially bad for all the people affected :(
There must be many more like this. Have the been replaced?
Ah, so the problem is negligence. And what negligence was there? PG&E not maintaining their towers as clearly documented (or rather, not documented as the thread shows), or even possibly the federal government not maintaining Bureau of Land Management and USDA Forest lands? No - it's California's fault, spoken as if even a healthy forest wouldn't burst into flames if someone threw molten hot aluminum on a kindling pile.
But where could that idea possibly have come from? Perhaps the Federal govermnent, whose head has basically been parroting that exact line? What an astounding coincidence.
 Although I think the thread is rather vague as to the damages assigned to PG&E no?
If you act in good fait, follow all regulations, act responsible, the law might see it as an accident where you don't get blame.
The storm that can through last month started several of these fires with dry lightning or very little rain accompanying the lightning.
Similar to red teams in security.
People die [like my neighbors here in Sonoma, CA] - it's not an EC2 instance that gets replaced.
Further, one does not just 'restore' the power grid after an outage:
Run it forwards, pick and event and allow it to run its course.
When designing simulation runs there are bunch of dimensions to consider
* Fidelity or simulation resolution, spatial and temporal
* Number of runs, it is a linear search, spatial search, random, gradient
* If you are testing specific parameters, like will this bridge hold this static load, multiple simulation runs are done with the inputs varied slightly, input sensitivity analysis. 
The simulations don't have to be entirely on the computer, they could also couple with them physical and human components. One could page k/n employees that might be on duty at the random time. Response times in real life could be inferred by response to the actual pages. But people were harmed, no actual failures occurred.
If society approached civilization seriously, we would apply the full power of science AND engineering while we fail horribly at the application of engineering and suffer its excesses.
Given other pro PG&E comments in this thread, and how so many factors were in play and this and that. It all boils down to money and acceptable risk and how to package that up in a way that PG&E gets a slap on the wrist. Well done!
It very well could be that we as a society, decide we are ok with these risks, but that we need mediation. And it could be that we A) turn off at risk lines during likely conditions, as shown in simulation or via direct perception B) Have fire bomber planes in the sky during high likely occurrences.
But money is cheaper. You gotta spend it to make it.
Your Option A is basically how it is done already for Public safety power shutoffs: they (PGE) have an extensive forecasting department, and they de-energize certain areas for risk based on their analyses. It doesn't work all the time: E.g. Camp Fire .
B isn't really an option when many of these incidents occur overnight. Otherwise Cal Fire already fly's their spotters during the day during Red Flag events. And their is a network of remote cameras (alertwildfire.org) for surveillance.
This all is beside the point though: Controlled burns in CA have decreased by 50%+ since the 90s/2000s, and 90s era environmental policies killed logging operations in a lot of CA. Fuel built up, and after that, thermodynamics take over.
If we can get back to mitigating the fuel load - controlled burns , and require PG&E to put more budget towards brush clearance and line maintenance - instead of mandating they enter into losing renewable contracts  - then we can certainly avoid a lot of these issues.
1 - https://www.propublica.org/article/they-know-how-to-prevent-...
2 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Fire_(2018)
3 - https://www.wsj.com/articles/pg-e-wins-ruling-allowing-it-to...
These are all tactics, PG&E had no strategy other than decide by committee so they couldn't be responsible for the resulting deaths and losses.
There are so many folks trying to slip their agendas into the remedies in this discussion. All of those are literal smoke screens for the greed driven structure of PG&E.
PG&E didn't start doing meaningful shutdown on lines until after the Camp fire.
How much would it take to make a useful scale model in a warehouse somewhere? I'm certainly not knowledgeable enough to understand how the smaller scale would relate to real-life fires, but it certainly seems plausible that, for a relatively small outlay, we'd have an important tool for establishing a much better understanding of wilderness fires. Given how much CA alone spends fighting forest fires, a 10 or 20 million project to build facilities and fund researchers seems like an obvious and much needed project.
Seems like doing it in winter would defeat the purpose.
PG&E isn't setting fires often enough to do that, so the downsides of every random fire they set strongly outweigh the upsides. If we need more fires, we should use carefully planned ones.
They tended to do this during the [very] wet season.
But PG&E is still on the hook for taking better care of their infrastructure.
It all comes down to dollars and [non]sense. Some actuary has determined that an occasional lawsuit and rotten press run is cheaper than maintaining the wires.
Here in New York, many of the buried water mains that transfer water to the city from upstate are well over a century old. Many are made of cast iron, and even wood.
There’s no plan to dig them up and replace them with more robust materials. They just wait for them to fail, then replace the small part that failed.
They do give city water some real taste, though. It’s probably actually nutritious.
At some point, all the older parts will get so old that it fails frequently and at a greater rate, that the fix cost will greatly exceed the budgeted amount.
Being a quite cynical person, I would say that up to that point management will have collected fat bonuses, then cry poverty and push for ruinous rate increases.
Along the same lines, CT just had an issue with a rate increase that doubled most bills.
The point being spreading out the cost over years and limiting "downtime" is a lot better than 1 huge event that leaves customers without. (re: Detroit and bottled water)
Yes, but that’s disingenuous. The largest civil engineering project in America right now is the new water tunnel for NYC. It’s been in progress for fifty years.
They replaced a corroded and failed section of pipe, repressurized the line and POP! went the next section... Two or three times as I recall.
No. He's saying that even if "PG&E were a competent and responsible company", the fire would still start, but through some other mechanism because it is a powder keg waiting to be set off by something. California wildfires are due to bad forest management policy spanning decades.
Point is there's two parties with some degree of negligence.
I think for a utility the risk should be very very close to zero, you can really do a lot of planning around it and make sure that if you're running infrastructure in a dangerous area to take sufficient measures to avoid all likely failures, and if one part breaks it doesn't end in a catastrophe. Maintenance schedules are there for a reason and keeping records helps improve the data for risk models.
But there might also be some blame on the general planning of the area, if it's too dangerous to run a power line, there shouldn't be one there. If other causes are likely, it shouldn't be unreasonable to expect this to be one of the government tasks to make sure that they set up some form of protection.
If anything they need to have more responsibility in such areas not less responsibility. If they can’t detect a tree is at risk or not then either cut down more trees or use underground power lines in that area.
The fires we are having are a human caused problem, and by human I don't necessarily mean PG&E. Trying to put this blame on one company is going to accomplish pretty much nothing and just lead to more deaths in the future as we piss around looking for the wrong people to blame and avoid solutions.
Also, underground cables still cause fires. I know this from experience.
Blaming PG&E is relevant because they are one of the few companies operating in these areas. When fires start in suburbs they rarely grow out of control, it’s when their far from human habitation that you see major issues. Another option would be adding sensors to PG&E equipment to allow for rapid responses and thus vastly limited growth.
Underground cables still causing fires doesn’t mean much when their significantly less likely to cause wildfires.
Do you know what 'Wildland Urban Interface' means?
Do you know where most of the houses burn?
Do you understand why this is the case?
PG&E is regulated, like most utilities are.
Where are/were the regulators?
They can lower the risk by a lot, but are you ready to pay 65 cents (or whatever) a KW ? PG&E, with all its faults, has been put in an impossible position: one fire (that is bound to happen no matter what because wires fail) can bankrupt them since it can burn hundreds of thousand of acres, thousands of homes, untold deaths and other property destruction.
You can't really blame them for everything. Manage forests, stop building a town in the middle of the freaking forest and raise electricity rates for a complete audit of all the lines. Otherwise, nothing can be done, just talk.
1) We are talking about criminal negligence, saving money is not a good reason of not dealing with crime.
2) we are talking about parts not being replaced in 100 years, the OP is not asking for some crazy level of maintenance thats going to break the bank.
3) once you take into account collateral damage and potential punitive damages, is it actually any cheaper?
4) whats the point of having cheap electricity if ut's inreliable, and ready to fail at any moment?
> Don't forget, at the current rate we're all subsidizing the rural power users.
I'm sure this is true to some extent—just as it is for telecommunications and mail delivery—but this tower wasn't just for rural power users, was it? I think it was some sort of high-voltage long-distance transmission line. There's a region-wide electrical grid, in part because power generation doesn't happen in city centers. Urban and suburban consumers depend on rural transmission lines.
> They should absolutely pay more if it costs more.
Rural areas produce the food urban areas need. I suppose your goal is to encourage people to move from rural areas to urban areas to lower total societal cost. Presumably you don't also want the food supply to fall and/or food insecurity to increase among the urban poor. So it'd be irresponsible to make this change without careful monitoring and matching policy changes to prevent those effects. You need to keep food affordable, to keep farming affordable, to keep providing services farmers need affordable, etc.
I have no idea. It's a hard question to answer. You are sure with no citation so I think you're wrong.
How do you define "rural" and how do you define a "town"? The US Census—which probably was directly or indirectly the source of your 10%—defines rural as not urban. Urban clusters must have a population of 2,500,  which already excludes a lot of what I'd call towns. And as a spot check, I don't see Grundy Center, IA on the list, despite meeting the population requirement (and not being included in a larger urban cluster AFAIK). Maybe it fails one of their other requirements. It is in their list of "incorporated places".
How do you define "involved in food production"? If I live with my family on a farm but picked "truck driver" as my occupation, am I involved in food production? If I am a teacher to farmers' kids, in a town of 500 people (see above), am I involved in food production? etc. Farmers don't exist in a vacuum. They need services like everyone else.
Even if you are right, "only about 10%" doesn't mean you won't cause pretty significant problems for everyone by messing with those folks...
We shouldn't just throw money at companies and hide the subsidies. The help should go to the people who ask for it and that way it's much clearer to everyone involved.
As a utility they should have a set of rules and guidelines on how to operate safely. If it isn't possible in a situation, they should say no to the other party. With the rules they should be able to point at exactly what is missing and get the other side to fix their part (e.g. the risk or get them to pay extra for maintenance) or stop operating that bit. This looks like they intentionally looked the other way.
Thus the better model for utilities are Coop's, member / consumer owned businesses where the goal is delivering reliable, safe power at a reasonable rate.
Utilities by their nature lend themselves to Market Monopoly, regulations added to that almost assures it so for most people having that service provided by a member owner COOP instead of an Investor Owned corporation will result in a better safer, more reliable outcome
So while PG&E can be blamed for that specific fire that doesn't really address the root cause of "why can some sparks in one place cause such huge destruction and can we do anything about that?"
I'm just not so sure that if you accidentally knock over one domino and a cascading whole room full of dominoes falls that you should take the blame for the cascading effects. Maybe whoever setup the dominoes behind the first one shares the blame as well...
My favourite: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-mendocino-compl...
Someone tried to stop an angry yellowjacket nest by driving a concrete stake into the hole in the ground and their hammer thew off sparks and started a 459,123 acre fire-- the largest recorded in state history at the time.
Yet if you had a wasps nest, you'd totally be tempted to douse it with a bit of gasoline, believing you could put it out before it spread to anything else... Except you couldn't...
And when the investigators came round, you'd totally tell them about the stake but not the petrol...
Out of the millions of people who use a hammer to strike metal on metal every day, one of them will manage start a fire eventually.
Even the unlikeliest events are actually pretty likely at scale.
Sure, two thirds of them may just be lying, but unless you can prove they are (which really shouldn't be that hard, considering burning fuel leaves obvious traces), you should assume each of them are telling the truth.
It has to be a clear bowl to trick the wasps to think that they can still get out otherwise they will dig a new exit.
Forest fires happen naturally all the time, but we've gotten so good at putting them out quickly, that at some point a huge buildup of dry underbrush will have amassed in a huge area, until a fire happens that is so big that we have no way to stop it. We're basically accumulating these huge powderkegs instead of letting the gunpowder burn one handful at a time.
Yes, you do and should take the blame under the eggshell skull doctrine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggshell_skull). If the initial action was unlawful, then the perpetrator bears liability for the full set of consequences -- even if those consequences are more severe than normal based on unknown factors. Here, PG&E was clearly guilty of gross negligence in their maintenance, so they bear liability for the consequences.
Worse yet, this background situation wasn't previously unknown. The enhanced fire risk was widely understood, which would put PG&E under an even greater obligation to ensure their equipment was operated safely.
There was a famous story here a couple years ago here where a mountain biker lit some toilet paper on fire and caused half a hillside to go up in flames.
Negligence, sure. Stupidity, no doubt. But it's also dry here in the summer, and that hasn't changed year after year. So sure, I guess, let it be the weather's fault or global warming, why not.
It's easier, afterall, to place the blame on other people or forces than to change behaviors that would prevent disasters in the first place.
We do blameless post-martens as a best practice in engineering so that when we don’t have constant outages of critical internet infrastructure and that it comes up quickly when issues arise.
Why ignore a successful strategy that may show better results than just blaming whoever happened to be responsible for some sparks this time around? Who are you going to blame when lightning is the spark?
First, those don't exist -- despite any evidence to the contrary.
Second, engineers don't have shareholders demanding stock buy backs.
If the wildfires in CA were a new thing this season, I wouldn't want to witch hunt this year's culprit. But it's been a huge hazard for years now -- negligent sparks can't be tolerated.
That's a hilarious image, but I doubt that literally happened
So very much of America's infrastructure is aging and used past planned capacity. How can you tell ahead of time which infrastructure will bite you the worst? Water control structures (dams, levees, locks) are a great place to look because of their potential for widespread, costly disasters.
If this C-hook had failed during a rainstorm, there would have been localized power loss for some time, and extra work for a repair crew.
Now, as it happens, California is naturally prone to wildfires; add to that climate change, poor vegetation control, people wanting to live next to trees - it really is only a matter of time before people are killed. Just look at all the fires burning now. How many of them were caused by faulty C-hooks?
Take the example from Fight Club:
> "Narrator: A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one."
The Narrator has provided us with a very vivid example: a fiery crash caused by a specific part. But what about all the other components? What about the other cars on the road? What about the guy that falls asleep while driving an affected vehicle and has a single car accident? There's a lot of noise in the real world.
0. For instance, I also live next to trees and love it (but not in California).
The issue is that the failure in this case was both predictable and ignored. PG&E willfully failed to inspect/maintain the equipment.
Accidents happen and you can't control for everything. But this is a very clear and obvious failure. The failure isn't specific to what failed in this case (The c-hook) but the failure of PG&E to do any due diligence.
I'm not sure that's the point. C-hooks are an example of a preventable accident. The problem isn't the c-hook itself but the policy / culture at PG&E and probably outside the company (as you point below) that allowed this to happen.
> So very much of America's infrastructure is aging and used past planned capacity. How can you tell ahead of time which infrastructure will bite you the worst?
Exactly. I see the twitter thread as an example of this broader issue. Of course, the solution is not to go around and check every single c-hook. The solution is to set up a plan (at the utility, state or federal level) so that this kind of avoidable accidents happen much less often.
I'm not saying that nothing like this would ever happen again, but even if such a plan could reduce such events by ten times, that would look like a success to me.
The solution is precisely to check every single one at least a few times a century. This is not that much to ask.
PGE has a very long track record of neglectful behaviours. From leaking chromium into drinking water in socal, san mateo gas main explosion, and the electrical fires in northern California.
There is something very wrong with how PGE approaches it's infrastructure and public safety. It would happen regardless of climate change.
In this case we're not even talking about tree trimming, we have a 100 year old tower. It's obvious it will fail soon, there should be an internal maintenance program to replace/update it. There are no such programs, PGE operates in a way that there would never be such a program. PGE should be held liable for predictable out comes of its behaviours. (see all it's other catastrophic failures across the state)
A normal company would not exist after one PGE level negligent catastrophe. PGE is still around because it holds the state hostage to our energy infrastructure. This is not acceptable.
The key recurring theme is negligence. That's the reason PGE faces such high liabilities for the disasters it causes. This is not an act of God.
I believe it's totally possible to operate a for profit utility that's safe and reliable. PGE can't do that, now how can california untangle this mess.
It seems clear to me that for-profit business is the wrong model for an infrastructure monopoly like power delivery networks.
PGE has a long term organizational culture in leadership that creates this environment of negligent behaviours. Essentially all of PGEs problems are due to PGE -climate, environment, geography and company profit motives are secondary causes of these disasters at best.
No doubt, but I'm just pointing out the reality -- make them responsible for any size fire set off by their equipment, and they will respond by turning off electricity during high fire danger periods. This isn't something that "might" happen, this is exactly what did happen.
So simply assigning more liability is not the answer.
Are you suggesting it's a good thing that they run their poorly maintained lines with a high chance of causing a fire during periods of high fire danger?
People want power, but they also don't want to die in a fire.
In my opinion, it is the average cost of a fire, most of which are small and don't cause much damage.
That this particular fire blew up into a big disaster was the result of many factors, only a few of which were actually in PGE's control.
Example: a roller coaster has broken seat belts. Usually nothing bad will happen because physics keeps the rider in their seat. In one case, a rider falls to their death because they were leaning a particular way on a particular turn. Should the theme park not be punished because nobody was hurt in the average case? Or everyone who rode the roller coaster and wasn’t injured needs to sue for their piece of the pie (because the average damage is one death divided by the total number of riders)?
In terms of _average_ cost vs. actual costs, according to my non-lawyer reading of the Wikipedia article on the eggshell skull rule, it doesn't matter that these particular conditions made the fire significantly more costly than average. They have to answer for the damages from the fire they caused, not to the "average" or even "foreseeable" damages from such a fire.
No need to assign culpability strictly to either PG&E or calfire for systematic wildfire mismanagement. We can blame them both! Also climate change.
While we had some fuck-ups too, we have way larger pyhsical safety margins, as in more space between the wires, more space between the wires and ground, more space between wires and vegetation (which is cut back when growing into that space), while usually we don't even have weather which makes it dry like tinder.
Honestly, this all looks like toys to us. Inconceivable.
Communities and forests in CA do not keep up adequate maintenance, that is taken as fact.
The super dry conditions coupled with wind exacerbate any fires that pop up.
We’ve had fires due to pge, gun shots (detwieller), a flat on a trailer causing sparks over 5 miles. Yet, the fires would not have been as severe if conditions on the forest floor were not so dire.
Plumas National Forest is pretty clean compared to many - yet winds kicked up on the Bear fire and Berry Falls was torched and Oroville threatened.
Santa Cruz mountains, many homes saved either had defensible space or neighbors nearby with such that stayed up and helped out.
Not sure I have a point, just some facts.
The convex hull is clearly superior in a fire-prone forest, because it permits the introduction of a fire-break. However, it requires us to, from a top-down perspective, decide that we will build a new entire town. We are reluctant to commit to building towns in forests, even though we are equally reluctant to ban people from living in forests.
In this situation we have the worst of both worlds: ad-hoc development is subsidized by the "surplus value lying around" when the government pays to build a road/powerlines/etc between two places, but it ultimately depletes that resource and creates new demands which must be fulfilled by the government.
No that would not be excusable for an American power company. Trees are trimmed and felled on a regular basis wherever they threaten power lines. Except, somehow, in California? That would be surprising.
They are also regulated and have to ask for permission to raise rates. This is the double sided coin of regulated utilities. There should be mandatory annual rate hikes and those should be mandated for maintenance and safety. It is verified and if not done, the utility pays a fine of 2x the rate hike. These systems are clearly aging and that needs to be built into the legislation. What happens if PG&E just goes bankrupt? People still need power. The infrastructure is still in shambles. The legislation must have a path to sustainability. This feels very similar to how the legislature has crippled the Post Office.
Or, say, a massive lightning storm such as the ones that sparked many of the wildfires this year.
Put the fire back in and, yes, they still have significant responsibility. The same way that someone setting off a firework or lighting up a barbecue in the brush or holding a gender reveal party is held responsible. They don't get off easier because they're a big business and it's tough for them. Their CEO and shareholders can live with a smaller return to properly take care of their equipment.
It has nothing to do with stopping all fires, or making them responsible for reducing them. It's holding them to account for causing one.
A part is tested to a point of failure, based on the quality parameters you specify. I'd put safety pretty high on a 115,000V line. Choose your sigma level based on your goals. I'd wager 97 years is out of the ballpark of "Yes, this might fail". And to save on cost, don't come back every year "OK, it's still OK." Replace it - it saves cost (and in this case, potentially lives).
So yes, I'd assign them blame. Be it an engineering part, an asphalt road, a power pylon.
There will be outliers, but this was an outlier of systematic negligence, with no (recorded) documentation prior to the year 2000.
Scheduled replacement saves costs in the long term, if bottom dollar is the aim.
Observe, test, measure, analyse, mitigate (did I create a new acronym to add to the vast QC vocabulary, OTMAM?). Scheduled replacement! Mitigate problems before they cause knock-on effects that shutdown a production line or endanger lives and livelihoods.
(I do get the sarcasm in your reply, BTW.)
This tower looks weird.
Overhead three-phase transmission is super common in the EU and I've never seen anything like this "transposition tower" that swaps the wires around in the air and I don't really see why it would make much sense to do so mid-line. Wouldn't it be easier to swap the wires around at the start or end of a line, or inside a substation?
Also, as far as I can tell (from sometimes photographing these things with telephotos), the insulators seem to generally be bolted to the mast instead of being hooked in, so this entire failure mode of hooks wearing out (or dislodging?) doesn't exist. (Okay, now you have to worry about changing loads on bolts, fair enough).
The EU probably does that less frequently simply due to higher density, and thus fewer long stretches of transmission line. I've personally seen a transposition tower in the EU on a line running across a mountain, so they do exist.
I'd be interested to know if the twists have been removed from the lines. It might be the case that they've replaced the special twisting masts with other ways of twisting, eg taking the lines into a substation and re-orienting them on the way back out. If they've added a lot of substations as the land gets developed more, that may be the case.
Also, I'm sure twisted masts are a bit more expensive. So this might just be a gradual process of saving money as equipment gets replaced rather than any specific engineering goal. There's many other things that unbalance lines, and twisting masts may not make enough of a difference compared to other issues.
The upside is that rewiring them is somewhat safe and easy since you don't have to do it over the entire length between towers, only a few dozens meters on a single tower.
edit: quite a few places also use single-level masts, that don't have this issue at all.
What do you mean by "moving parts"? The US lines don't have any parts that move more than slightly, which EU lines do as well (they have too: the lines themselves expand and contract, and move in the wind, so the insulators have to have flexibility).
But no. They won't even replace a $12 hook.
I watch flightaware pretty constantly, so it's easy to see their contracted helicopters up in the area.
Point being, they are trying -- I think people also fail to understand just how huge and rural Northern CA is.
$2.7 million all in all. they make >$500mil a year, they can afford to try harder.
What policy changes would those be? I've never lived near there so I don't have a clue.
... it is impossible to maintain records of WTF they are doing.
Don't stop there; remember they're regulated:
> California’s public utilities commission prioritized rates, green power; wildfires exposed shortcomings
* https://archive.is/czAB3 (paywall)
> A state lawmaker on Wednesday demanded an extensive review of the California Public Utilities Commission to determine whether regulators’ lax oversight enabled neglect at Pacific Gas & Electric that triggered catastrophic wildfires, a messy bankruptcy and exasperating blackouts.
Or, once again, is it just an amazing coincidence that people have suddenly completely flipped their stance because it happened in California?
Please quote back to me where in my post I say "more regulation".
> Aren't you "regulations" people usually against regulations?
??? Who is the "you" that is being referenced?
Perhaps you are projecting onto me positions that I have not stated and may not actually hold. I have not stated whether more free market is good/better or bad/worse, or whether more regulations would be better or worse.
I'm simply pointing out that, in addition to PG&E, there may be other parties that may share responsibility in the chain of events that led to the situation at hand.
PG&E operates in a regulatory context: is it worth examining if that context contributed to the current situation that California is in? Are the regulations a problem? Or how they are interpreted or applied? Are more needed, or less? Perhaps they need to be streamlined (proscriptive versus descriptive)? I have no answers to these questions.
See also: the FAA and Boeing (737 MAX).
What makes it bad is how fire-prone California is. I'm of the opinion that humans should not be living in areas that burn regularly. And in PG&E's defense I doubt anyone was living near the lines when they were built 100 years ago.
If forest fire was an acceptable outcome of line failure 100 years ago when the lines were built, is it PG&E's fault that tons of people moved into this fire prone area? In my mind the cities nearby should have paid them to make the lines safer. To me this is like the people that move near a concert hall then complain that it's loud. Or move to a floodplain and complain when it floods...
It seems like it's been known that these lines were a fire risk for a very long time, and cities should have paid to make them safer before zoning so much land for residential. I assume, but cannot prove, that PG&E probably enumerated the risks when the land was sold or rezoned but their concerns were ignored. Having done a study on the wear of the hooks themselves, it seems unlikely they would not have notified communities nearby of the risk. My prediction is that they start to point fingers at the government, but people continue to sue the power company because sueing the government is hard.
Of course they can. A failure is an unplanned shutdown, and I doubt that leads to better outcomes than a planned shutdown. Also this thread demonstrates that PG&E replaced _other_ parts of the same tower.
> I'm of the opinion that humans should not be living in areas that burn regularly.
I'm of the opinion that climate change makes this a moving target, and this is simply one of the obvious repercussions.
> is it PG&E's fault that tons of people moved into this fire prone area?
No, it's their fault that even though they made $550 million in profits in 2018, and made other improvements to these towers, they still failed to keep them in proper repair. Also, it's not always "fire-prone." California experienced a bit of drought in 2018.
> and cities should have paid to make them safer
Shouldn't the company making $550 million in profits pay to make them safer?
PG&E would love to spend more money on maintenance. It doesn't cut into their profits, because their expenses and profits are set by state government commission anyway. Of course, the government commission has some incentive to keep the rate low, to make citizens happy, which makes it limit how much money PG&E can make and spend.
The above is not meant to imply that if PG&E worked like any normal company, they'd maintain their shit better -- I have no idea if they would. However, in the current regime, where CPUC exercises so much control over what PG&E does and how much money it makes and spends, the blame cannot be solely placed on PG&E side.
At some point companies need to take responsibility and be held accountable for their (in)actions. I know this is an unpopular opinion for HN, given its venture funding roots, but companies shouldn’t be given a free pass every time they screw up due to placing greed above all else.
My point here is not to argue that with less regulation, PG&E would do better job when it comes to maintenance — I don’t know if it would. However, considering how deeply regulated it actually is, and how much the regulator controls everything it does, some blame must also be placed on the regulator’s side.
...and did they ask? It's their job to ask. You can't blame the oversight organization's interference if it didn't interfere.
Yeah, their series of felony convictions for violating the law regarding maintenance, and obstructing investigations into those failures, tells a very different story.
From the linked CPUC Decision Making in the above comment, there are multiple examples where PG&E have advocated for increased spending for safety purposes, but organisations such as the Division of Ratepayer Advocates and The Utility Reform Network were pushing back. Ultimately, however, it is the CPUC that weighs the arguments of the different parties and determines allowable spending.
As clarification, your statement makes it sound like CPUC makes unilateral decisions about what PG&E can or cannot do when, in fact, CPUC makes those decisions based on requests made by PG&E.
While CPUC does have a certain level of decision making power, a lot of their decisions are made based on what PG&E says is the right/necessary thing to do.
Who makes decisions at the CPUC? It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is circular logic.
I'm not an infrastructure professional, I'm in automation and manufacturing, but all too often I come across equipment that must never be shut down and must be functional 100% of the time, but which has been run long past its service life. Windows 98 or XP computers on their 9th resurrection due to parts from eBay, castings full of helicoils, electrical cabinets with wires strung across like cobwebs... If the business was successful before the machine was built, downtime now costs tens of thousands of dollars per hour, and the whole machine cost 500,000 dollars 100,000 hours ago, maybe someone should start thinking about building a replacement (or, better, a pair of replacements) and phasing this one out?
I know the front office likes to write off machine depreciation as a tax deduction. With a 10 year useful life on a $500k machine, you get $50k in tax deductions. In the 11th year, you get no tax deduction, but the machine is still making money.
I feel strongly that there ought to be some kind of financial penalty for operating a machine that's depreciated beyond its claimed useful life - not a direct tax penalty, but some kind of non-cash-expense liability that subtracts from the big positive number on the front page of the quarterly financials which the CEO uses to claim they deserve a bonus.
PG&E's more regulated than just painting them as a for-profit business with $550M in the black would suggest. They have maintenance and capital expenditures that they need to make. But those regulated books didn't show the single-point-of-failure risks and long-past-useful-life liabilities, and they should!
A pedantically accurate retort, but ignores the real point.
Shutting down these lines for "inspection" is not feasible. These lines are the backbone of a grid that millions of people and services rely on 24/7/365, and there is zero redundancy. They are responsible for delivering power to hospitals, traffic lights, schools, airports, grocery stores, homes, businesses, and the list goes on.
Telling people "We need to turn off your power for a couple days every couple months for inspections" is going to create a lot of backlash, no matter how good the reason.
Also, the lines in question aren't like closing a two lane road in a small neighborhood for a couple hours where a few annoyed people can take alternate routes. It's more like shutting down all the freeways in a major city for a day just so that the DOT can finally get some street sweeping done. Good luck not starting a riot.
The problem is, these systems are old, too many people rely on them, and there is no redundancy.
If we want to take a step towards fixing the problem, the best start is to create redundancy for power supply to consumers, imo. Preferably more localized power generation via wind/solar/etc with some localized power storage.
Also, their profit margin for one year is not a fair argument towards them being at fault. Economics of public companies are about a lot more than "We made extra money, so we should have just spent it on making our product better". If shareholders don't make money in a company, they pull their investments. You pull enough investments in PG&E, that means they have to cut costs. Meaning, less money for inspections and improvements to the grid.
Economics at scale is not a black-and-white, napkin math, solvable problem.
They were happy to tell people "We need to turn off your power for a couple of days because of wind." Granted, in this particular case, they weren't talking about the 115kV line that ultimately caused the fire.
To me, this just further highlights their "run it till it breaks" philosophy. This becomes a little more obvious when you read their plans for fixing this mess, and it involves a dual-circuit transmissions system. So, you can literally shut half of it down without completely stopping power.
It's also not impossible to serve one neighborhood with two power lines, in fact it's quite common.
> Also, the lines in question aren't like closing a two lane road in a small neighborhood
It is a single 115kV line. That's exactly like what it is. For the rest of the state your analogy falls apart because there is a significant amount of redundancy and additional capacity that can be used to route power. For example, lookup "Path 46" and the "Pacific DC Intertie." Which is interesting in it's own right because it can be run in two different modes, one for nearly double the power capacity in certain conditions.
> The problem is, these systems are old, too many people rely on them, and there is no redundancy.
The California regulator has been asleep at the switch here, and they do share some culpability, but again.. it's not impossible to design around this constraint. You're going to pay twice as much for aluminum and nearly twice as much for everything else, but it's not impossible to solve. Just no one wanted to and no one was going to make them.
> Also, their profit margin for one year is not a fair argument towards them being at fault.
They are a state granted monopoly. I think it's entirely fair.
> Economics at scale is not a black-and-white, napkin math, solvable problem.
Sure, but you can start on the napkin and see if you're even in the ballpark. I think if you put even $100 million down on a napkin, you'd be surprised at what can fit in your ballpark.
Maybe not every couple of mounts, but they could probably get away with doing them more frequently than a century...
Also, you can do visual inspection even without having to shut down power.
No, stronger than that. The problems with these lines were noticed without shutting them down, at least by someone, but it didn't get acted on.
We don't even know if replacing these parts would have required shutdowns, but it would have been easy to justify shutdowns for such visible problems.
Wilson was the driving force behind the 1996 legislation that deregulated the state's energy market, which was the first energy utilities deregulation in the U.S. and aggressively pushed by companies such as Enron.
The proof is in the thread. Barely 10 years ago, PG&E pleaded guilty to another felony, when its under-maintained gas pipeline in San Bruno exploded, killed 8 people, and leveled a neighborhood. That utility has a cultural problem going to the very top that prioritizes profit over safety, and I sincerely hope it emerges from bankruptcy reformed.
There is something seriously wrong with PGE and it's attitude towards it's infrastructure and public safety.
The state next to Victoria does, and did recently.
(This is from memory, so if I got any specifics wrong, see replies for corrections.)
yes, they can.
>I doubt anyone was living near the lines when they were built 100 years ago.
Paradise, CA was on a railroad map ca 1900:
Along similar lines of thinking, humans should not be living in areas that flood regularly, or that have earthquakes regularly, or that have hurricanes regularly, or that have tornadoes regularly, or that have insufficient water, or that have excessive heat or cold regularly, or that have high rates of animal-transmitted disease.
This doesn't leave many places for people to live.
Yes an asteroid could hit anywhere but the notion that suburban sprawl out into every corner of the wilderness is justified by that is ludicrous.
But there’s got to be a higher resolution one out there.
But people like living near the oceans, mountains, and where weather is nice. That should be okay, but the government shouldn't be throwing money at them. Let them know the area is dangerous, and if they want to live there, they're on their own.
I get miffed when we bail these people out with federal funds for disaster relief. They should be required to have private insurance, with insurance free to set rates based on risk. If it's too expensive to get insured, don't live there
Replacing them every 30 years won't bancrupt anyone.
However unlike PG&E we take high resolution photographs of every major component on a transmission tower, and manually inspect and classify every image take. Images of this type would have identified this fault, at least once during inspections taken during the last couple of decades.
Source: Worked for a company that did these inspections.
Regulations should require sufficient redundancy for scheduled outages on individual lines for regularly scheduled service during non-critical times.
Communities should not be allowed to form, and should be actively wound down if they are within dangerous areas with seasonal problems. Fires, Floods, Extreme doubts, unsustainable water table use, etc. This should _begin_ at a federal level with a re-location act, and should involve planning and support at every stage of government to proceed in an orderly way for society.
Edit: Also, of course, the company is still at fault, I forgot to point that out while going over other aspects of the systemic failure of society (people and organizations of people) as a whole.
But when we abandon most of the West (earthquake, fire, drought), midwest (flooding, tornados, east and particularly gulf coast (hurricanes), there's a whole lot of economic output lost from working land (farming, mineral extraction, etc.) that won't be replaceable when you crowd the remaining population into whatever safe bubble you have left.
The reason people live in dangerous areas is because they are often inherently economically productive, and in fact many of the things that make land suitable to human habitation are associated with periodic risk (freshwater supply and flood risk tend to go together, for instance.)
PGE demonstrates neglectful behaviours towards all of its infrastructure. It has transmission lines everywhere and has the same general attitude to maintenance and safety. Ask the people of San Mateo how safe they feel with PGEs gas lines. There are serious long term problems inside PGE and it's doubtful they are going to change.
PGE presents a serious risk to Californians everywhere.
Is the local government dissolved, so the county or state pays for this?
Any info is appreciated, I am very curious of how this works in practice.
Instead, the approach is they will simply shut off the power during these high risk days.
Interesting that they actually warned that they could shut off power in the days leading up to the fire, but never actually did. To me, those are the meetings to zero in on when it comes time to lay the blame. I wonder, what was the calculus to cutting power (which itself can have health & safety impacts to the populace) and how much of it was political?
PG&E has 100,000 miles of transmission lines, so perhaps about a million of these towers. To put that in perspective, historically they spend billions of dollars a year on maintenance and upgrade on the order of 100-200 miles of transmission lines per year.
You don't need to physically inspect every item to be safe, here. You rely on precaution, standard shelf life, and operational procedures.
If that's difficult, so be it. That's the price people pay for choosing to live in the sticks. This should all be accounted for.
You think that hospitals inspect every item every 3 months? Hell no. A lot of things have lifecycles and it's just replaced because that's the tolerance, and it's safer in the long run. PG&E should be the same.
PGE took this information and did nothing.
This is not how you maintain critical infrastructure. This is embracing failure and simply not caring about the consequences.
I’m not sure a single person at any one time has ever knowingly caused this much damage through negligence. I mean ever in human history. Failures this large due to negligence tend to be systemic. But it would be a very interesting to hear an example.
The closest I can think of could be some of the famous bridge design failures, where people died, and people did go to jail, but not forever.
Because ensuring safety of the lines during very high risk days is impossible, a big part of the strategy was to add local generation redundancy so that they can switch off the transmission lines during high risk events but still keep the power on. These redundant stations would have to be natural-gas plants though, and CA has carbon-free mandates that prohibit them, so they have been prevented from implementing this strategy.
Frankly, it’s not clear that demand for this unreliable grid electricity can support the growth of the ratebase (the property being maintained).
At some point the ROI on switching to solar and batteries is net positive in the first month (based on financing the cost at a reasonable rate), and I’m not sure that point is much higher than $0.50/kWh for a household using 600kWh+ per month.
The more people that just opt-out of a grid connection entirely, the fewer people the ratebase is divided across, the higher rates must be set for those that remain.
Luckily the lithium-ion supply is fairly limited right now, but over the next 10-20 years that won’t remain the case.
PG&E currently has about $40 billion of debt, and recently issued $5 billion of debt at a B1 rating (junk). These issues also drive up their borrowing costs, which further shows up in the rates.
This is a good overview of the challenges they face;
I predict that in 10-15 years we could hear calls to outlaw or prohibitively tax any new battery/solar systems that take new houses in CA off-grid, because the grid will be in “solar death spiral”.