Rich Brock: Outages from the top down
Hooray! “The Great Blackout of 2019” is over, after 60 hours (at our house anyway), power was restored, and there is much rejoicing throughout the land.
I am grateful there were no fires this week in our area, am grateful for every fire suppression guy or gal and entity out there. And while I have nothing but respect and love for every single PG&E field worker for their yeoman’s work in bringing the lights back up, I hold every single PG&E decision-maker responsible for the confusing and avoidable disruption of life to millions of their customers.
It was poorly thought out, poorly executed, and poorly explained. Of course, if one was looking for an explanation on the PG&E Public Safety website they wouldn’t find it there the first 24 hours because it crashed. But even if it hadn’t, without electricity — or with spotty cell phone reception — how would one easily access the info anyway?
But OK, if my area has to be taken down I can live with that. To prevent fires — which nobody wants — I will accept the disruption. What is not acceptable is 60 hours without power in an area where the “emergency”did not exist and where winds were never above 12 mph. And for most of the duration, below that.
Nor is it acceptable to tell me, while it may not be windy where I live, my electricity might have to be taken off anyway because it’s windy someplace else. Like someplace else in the North America, I guess, where PG&E sensors indicated a breeze. I live in Grass Valley, but when I arrived at work on Thursday in Rocklin, though 20-30 mph sustained winds were blowing, all the lights were on 21st century life continued undisturbed. Yet 40 miles away at home, where a leaf may have gently wafted from one side of the driveway to the other that morning, I spent three full breezeless nights living like Pa Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie.
Fine, OK. We’re used to occasional outages living in the foothills. But from what I understand, it takes 30 to 40 mph sustained winds to take down a tree limb. And that was never going to happen for a vast majority of the blackout area.
Of course, the bigger question might be why is the grid in such poor shape that PG&E has to take power down during high winds and Red Flag days? The answer, I suspect, is systemic corporate mismanagement and bureaucratic incompetence.
Which all led to at least two days where countless number of well-run businesses couldn’t operate, where well-run restaurants were forced to throw away thousands of dollars of perfectly good food, where well-run schools were closed and not educating the young, and slowing-down elderly were left alone in the dark hoping the backup batteries on their electrical breathing equipment keeps working.
Though nobody blames the utility for the weather, the utility and the state are at blame for 20 years of a poorly maintained grid that had to be taken down because it’s “windy.” Where else in the world does that happen? No place except the Third World country of California, I guess.
Although the cream usually rises to the top in most companies, at PG&E it appears the decision-makers have managed to rise only to their level of incompetence. Exceeded it, actually.
But make no mistake — this is not the fault of the PG&E front-line people. This all falls on the suits. And the fools and clowns residing under the Capitol dome, from Newsom down through the legislature. A pox on them all. And especially you Gavin, the man who would be president yet can’t keep the lights on in his own state.
A price has to be paid for this mess and a recall of the governor might be a pretty good place to start. Where do I sign up?
Rich Brock lives in Grass Valley.
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