The policies that led to California's wildfires and power shut offs

Chuck Devore:

There are two main factors involved that, combined, created a deadly dilemma: keep the power on and risk sparks that could set off wildfires, or switch off the power and harm people through lack of electricity. The proximate cause of the dilemma was environmental policies.

First, gross mismanagement of California’s forests and coastal chaparral that discouraged timber harvesting starting in 1994 while also making it difficult to conduct preventive burns, both of which led to a massive, decades-long fuel build up.

Second, starting in 2002 with a bill supported by the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council and opposed by California’s utilities and trade unions mandated a yearly increase in renewable power by 1% per year, now accelerated to 60% by 2030. This mandate to buy more wind and solar was met with political demands to keep electrical rates down. Ironically, the 70% reduction in natural gas price from 2005 to 2015 due to modern fracking techniques helped mask some of the expenses of going green. But the cost of new power lines to connect vast wind and solar fields with the grid while decommissioning fossil fuel plants with years of life left in them left few additional resources to maintain powerlines.

As powerline maintenance declined and the fuel load under and around the lines increased, the incidence of spark-caused deadly fires mounted.

With PG&E in bankruptcy protection to shield the company from $30 billion in potential claims from 19 major wildfires traced to its equipment in the past two years, preventively cutting power during periods of high winds seemed its only option.

Now California is playing catch up—and it won’t be easy.

PG&E is woefully behind schedule on clearing trees away from 2,455 miles of power lines by year’s end, with only 760 miles completed by September 21.

PG&E says it can’t find crews to do the work—which isn’t a surprise given that a quarter century of anti-logging lawsuits, new laws, and environmental regulation, as well as foreign competition, cut employment in the state’s timber industry in half over the last 20 years, leaving shuttered sawmills, shattered towns and opioid addiction in its wake. Further, clearing trees is hard, dangerous work, with an on-the-job mortality rate second only to commercial fishing.

California’s future is sadly easy to predict: there will be more wildfires in spite of the blackouts. Politicians will alternately blame PG&E, the state’s other power providers, and climate change to shift public anger away from policies they enacted. And, before the last of this fire season’s ash gets flushed into the Pacific there will be a serious attempt at a state takeover of PG&E. Lastly, as is frequently the case when elected officials are taking flak, they may make a scapegoat of their appointees, with CPUC president Batjer likely to be the first on the chopping block at the end of her long career in public service.

Nationally, President Trump may weigh in again on California’s self-inflicted wounds, as he’s done before on wildfires, forest mismanagement and homelessness. In this, California serves as a useful example to the rest of the nation of what progressive policies look like when implemented without regard to the inevitable real-world consequences.
Big Green is the main culprit in this crisis.  It is also responsible for pushing the blame off on others.  Being an environmental wacko means never having to say you are sorry for the problems you cause.  The Answer is to unleash the logging business and let them profitably clear the deadwood and thin the forest to a more manageable level.  They could also help clear around the powerlines.


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