Kent Rees: PG&E unsafe in any season
PG&E reminds me of Ralph Nader’s book, “Unsafe at Any Speed.” Nader exposed the ignored safety risks of the Chevy Corvair and how a critical flaw could not be overcome by any fixes.
The same thing is true of PG&E. The original mistake of not burying their lines cannot be overcome by any efforts to make things better.
The post-Christmas storm left Cascade Shores with three feet of snow and dozens of broken trees that toppled utility poles and lines. It severed all communications and left us in the dark and cold for at least two weeks.
A couple of years ago, PG&E spent a boatload of money cutting some of our biggest trees that were in the pathway of their lines. That “fix” didn’t help at all since most of the fallen trees were the smaller ones, too weak to hold a big snow load.
A similar destructive storm hit Cascade Shores in 2010, and we had tree damaged poles and lines all over the place. A few months later, I interviewed a PG&E manager who worked on sending us repair crews. I pointed out to him that the electrical system must be awfully weak if it could succumb so easily to snow. I tried to help him to see that our summer exposure to falling trees was equally great and could lead to wildfires, especially with those uninsulated wires. There was no indication from him that safety was being compromised.
In the summer of 2020, I met PG&E subcontractors on my street who said they were doing preliminary work so that the company could start installing insulated lines and fire resistant poles starting the following year. What great news, I thought! Well, nothing happened. And it’s just as well because had they replaced the old poles and lines, the new stuff would have been destroyed just as easily by our recent snowstorm. So much for another PG&E “solution.”
And let us not think that this snow-induced power loss was just an inconvenience. People were trapped in their homes by dangling lines, incomes were lost, unheated houses caused residents to leave, food had to be tossed, emergency calls could not be made, and elderly residents really suffered. It doesn’t take long for a power outage to become a safety issue in areas like ours.
Everyone, even PG&E, has come around to know that overhead electrical lines are a safety risk during fire season (spring, summer and fall). With this recent snow event that cut power all across the lower foothills, we need to see that overhead lines in forested areas pose a safety risk even during winter.
PG&E has become the Chevy Corvair of the 21st century, unsafe in any season and beyond the reach of an effective fix.
P.S.: A huge thank you to the line workers who finally reached Cascade Shores to sort out the mess and restore power and communications.
Kent Rees lives in Cascade Shores.
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