It is easy to point your finger at PG&E, at their failure to plan and maintain their electrical lines, their untenable solution of turning off power for long periods of time – this is a disaster. Maybe it is the first real disaster of climate change.
This is the third year in a row that we have experienced horrific fire conditions in the early fall as the weather starts to change, the conditions are as dry as they ever will be, and winds are whipping like never before.
As the Washington Post reported on Monday, “Evidence continues to mount that climate change is worsening their effects.”
They note that “this year’s windstorms have shocked forecasters because they have been so closely packed together. After being bombarded by a windstorm last Wednesday and Thursday, and a stronger ‘historic’ blast over the weekend, the area is bracing for a third surge Tuesday and Wednesday.”
“I’ve been in this business for 28 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Steve Anderson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s forecast office serving the San Francisco Bay Area.
Later the Post notes: “Although there are multiple causes, the flare-up in fire activity over the past decade or so has coincided with an observed trend toward hotter, drier and longer-lasting fire seasons.”
According to Cal Fire, “[C]limate change is considered a key driver of this trend.”
We have had decades of warning that climate change was coming – but let’s blame this all on PG&E, oh, and my favorite, laws attempting to mitigate climate change.
What the State Republicans are now proposing as a solution is to halt a state law that would require California to get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2045.
Because that makes sense – let’s stall legislation that is the longer-term fix in order to solve a short-term problem.
But that’s what Senator Jim Nielsen and Assemblymember James Gallagher are arguing. They say that PG&E is spending a huge amount of money, approximately $2.4 billion, to comply with SB 100, and they could use that money to prevent future wildfires and power shutoffs over the next ten years.
They also argue that PG&E is already on track to meet its obligations – arguing that right now 85 percent of its electricity comes from renewable and greenhouse gas-free sources.
“Why are we continuing to force them to pay billions of dollars of ratepayer funds buying more renewables when we could take those dollars to make their infrastructure safer for all of us who are experiencing this?” Assemblymember Gallagher asked. “This is smarter climate policy.”
But is that a climate policy? Conservatives are making the argument that the state is pushing PG&E into using more sustainable energy rather than ensuring its power grid is in good shape.
The Wall Street Journal editorialized last week that “California’s return to the dark ages is a direct result of the Democratic political monopoly in Sacramento.”
Clearly the Democrats have to be careful here. A key impetus for Gray Davis being removed from office 15 years ago by the voters was mishandling power issues. On the other hand, it appears right now that PG&E, rather than the state lawmakers, are bearing most of the blame here.
Democrats are countering that PG&E is prioritizing making money for its investors rather than prioritizing safety.
There is also the rather important argument to shift our electrical use in order to reduce our carbon footprint, hoping to hold off climate change.
Unlike what was the case in 2003, Democrats have a ready-made scapegoat for the power problems – PG&E, a company no one likes at this point.
“As it relates to PG&E, it’s about dog-eat-dog capitalism meeting climate change,” Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week. “It’s about corporate greed meeting climate change. It’s about decades of mismanagement.”
For their part, PG&E is focused on attempting to fix the current problems with shutoffs.
They said in a statement, “There will be a time and place to discuss policy proposals, but right now our full attention is on safety.”
Meanwhile, Kevin de León, the state senator who authored SB 100, said he worries that the Republican proposal “would increase PG&E’s operating costs and give the utility even less money to spend on improving its infrastructure.”
Moreover, he worries that undoing SB 100 would make it harder for California to meet climate change goals.
“Changing or repealing California’s landmark 100 percent clean energy law is like giving snake oil to a sick patient in a hospital,” Senator de León said. “It does nothing to help cure the problem and would set us back decades in our efforts to reduce the devastating impacts of extreme weather patterns like the ones we are facing right now.”
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning. We have seen three years of this weather pattern – normal dry and hot summer weather seems to be extending later and later. A couple of years ago it was in the 80s leading right up to Thanksgiving. Last year, fires forced the cancellation of school prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. We appear headed that way again, with no rain in sight.
PG&E and the state lawmakers are just reacting right now – but once the season changes, someone has to come up with a longer-range solution.
—David M. Greenwald reporting