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Our View: Don’t leave us in the dark

Just when you thought you had enough to worry about, you find yourself with the lights out.

Not yet, at least not for days on end. But the threat of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shut-offs is there, always lurking just seven days out of sight, waiting to flip the switch off.

We know the drill. We lived through it last autumn, when the potential for high winds in the Sierra led to multiple power shut-offs for thousands of Nevada County residents. The shut-offs dominated the news, sparked calls for a sea change in how we get our power and even led the Nevada Irrigation District for a time to examine how it might provide juice to its customers.



But in the end nothing of significance occurred, and so we find ourselves exactly where we were — wondering when the darkness will crawl back in.

PG&E has said this year’s shut-offs will be shorter and more targeted. It’s using better real-time weather technology, which should help its decision making process. It’s also cutting vegetation around power poles, what it calls a key component to prevent shut-offs.



That bit about vegetation maintenance is essential, as plenty of Nevada County residents well know. Our Board of Supervisors a couple of years ago put real teeth into an abatement ordinance, allowing for the cleanup of the worst cases.

PG&E appears to be stepping up its game as well. Its crews are trimming trees, and have completely removed some that otherwise would have cost one homeowner thousands of dollars.

Sure, there’s always room to complain about the removal of historic trees. The problem is, we live in a tinderbox. Trees and vegetation creep too close to power poles and wires. Maintenance must occur regularly, and that means some trees will fall.

The result will be a safer Nevada County, and hopefully another year without a catastrophic fire.

PG&E caught a bad rap last year — as it should have — with its substandard communication about the power shut-offs. Blanket outages, poor explanations about why they were happening and often inaccurate timing about when they would occur raised the ire of plenty. The order of restoring power to those affected didn’t seem to make much sense.

People want answers, proper answers, when they lose an essential utility — to some a utility they need to operate life-giving machinery. PG&E needs to have learned that lesson.

We’re cautiously optimistic it has.

The utility company on Friday conducted aerial patrols in Nevada and Yuba counties, examining power lines in anticipation of a Public Safety Power Shut-off this autumn. No shut-off was planned. These patrols were homework, giving crews a chance to see the circuits that could be affected by a shut-off.

PG&E issued a release about these flyovers, an essential communication, especially in our community, where people rush to Facebook anytime a plane appears overhead.

This is the level of communication PG&E must use regularly to build trust and inform its customers. It’s going to have some hurdles to overcome to gain the trust of Nevada County, and all of California. Last year’s stumbles left a burn on our community. PG&E must work to remove the marks that left, and endeavor to constantly improve itself, its communication and its performance.

Because we’re tired of being left in the dark.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.


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