Our View: Fire power outages are the new normal | TheUnion.com

Our View: Fire power outages are the new normal

The Union Editorial Board

Get slapped with a class-action lawsuit with damages reaching into the billions, you start taking things seriously.

Serious enough to potentially cut electricity for days to homes across the North State.

In the wake of last year’s Camp Fire, and the legal action that followed, PG&E said its customers can expect extreme precautions to avoid another wildfire. That means disrupting power to high risk spots, possibly for more than two days. The power won’t come back on until utility workers examine power lines in that area. That will take some time.

This isn’t going to be like a downed line that leaves you in the dark for a few hours on a stormy night. This is the type of outage that spoils your milk. Or, for those with serious medical needs, leaves you without life-saving machinery that relies on electricity.

Wildfires will only become worse, as the past few years have proven. We need to plan for them now, and that includes going for days without power.

This is the new normal, and we need to accept it.

One good step: Invest in a generator. This will create a new set of issues for county residents. Generators need fuel, and that fuel must be stored safely. There’s also a cost for the machinery that some folks won’t be able to shoulder easily.

That’s a financial issue that won’t be fixed overnight. Our elected leaders should start working on it now. Are state or federal grants available to help people buy what for some of them will be the difference between life and death? Is any money available locally to assist these folks?

This isn’t a problem that needs addressing immediately. It’s one we should have tackled over the winter, when we had months to prepare.

However, this is the situation we’re in now. We can’t stop wildfires from happening. But we can reduce their frequency and take steps to ensure we’re not left in the dark when they threaten.

There are steps we can take that are immediate and long term.

Do this now: sign up for alerts so you’ll know when there’s a chance PG&E will cut your power. Visit http://www.pge.com and click on the “Outages” tab. Update your contact information. Follow the utility on Twitter: @PGE4Me. Follow The Union as well: @TheUnion.

Do this next: Start hunting for generators. Get the fuel, have a safe place for it and install the generator. Make sure it works. You’ll be glad.

Long term: Think about investing in solar. Sure, it likely won’t cover all of your electricity use, but it’ll help. With a couple of batteries you could run what’s essential during an outage.

Really long term: PG&E needs to seriously examine burying its lines. How much does the utility spend on trimming and cutting trees, only to return over the years and perform the same job?

You might think it’s cost prohibitive to bury lines in a land with topography like Nevada County. Look at the cost of settling lawsuits and then reconsider.

A theoretical timeline: The people of this community and state need to have a robust discussion with PG&E and their government about dealing with this problem as we move forward.

Some of these ideas won’t be popular. Plenty of them will never happen. A discussion about them is needed just the same.

We should consider a moratorium on building in wild land areas. We also should think about a state run, not private, power company. Alternatively, we could consider breaking PG&E into smaller companies.

A line maintenance surcharge on everyone’s bill could increase the frequency of vegetation maintenance. Clearly defining a property owners’ responsibility, as well as PG&E’s, also would go a long way toward fixing the larger problem.

We’ll never be able to completely stop fire and the outages that come with them. But we do have the chance to make sure those lights, once cut, come back on.

Our View is 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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