ON TUESDAY at 1:30pm a Timed Supervisors Agenda Item on the is entitled: “Discussion and Possible Action Including Acceptance of Presentation by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Regarding the New Safety Initiative, Public Safety Power Shutoff Program and an Update Regarding the County’s Associated Preparation.”
What if the Board doesn’t like it? What if they prefer “Rejection”?
OUR HIGH-HANDED ‘LOCAL’ UTILITY COMPANY has unilaterally notified northern California that because they haven’t done what the law requires in keeping their lines clear and their equipment updated and maintained, they now have an unsafe transmission system which has to be powered down when it’s windy and hot. For several days at a time.
IS MENDO prepared to simply roll-over and “accept” that? Doesn’t PG&E have an obligation to do whatever they can to minimize these PG&E-created “public safety” shutdowns? Shouldn’t this be a two-way street? If PG&E wants Mendo to “accept” their plans for periodic shutdowns, shouldn’t Mendo get something in return (not to mention the rest of us)?
SO DOES PG&E offer anything in exchange? Loans of equipment, perhaps? Help with “high risk” fire hazard mitigation in Mendo when crews aren’t too busy? Identification and assessment of critical power needs and line locations? Direct real-time powered communications between Mendo’s Emergency Operations Center and PG&E with real-time reporting on who’s out and when the power will come back on? Reimbursements for out of pocket costs directly related to their shutdowns?
LET’S TAKE A LOOK at PG&E’s Presentation.
OH! HERE WE GO: “Working with communities to develop new resilience zones to provide electricity to central community resources during a Public Safety Power Shutoff event.”
And, “Partnering with community leaders, first responders and public safety authorities around PSPS [“public safety planned shutdowns”] preparedness and coordination.”
How nice that sounds!
But the presentation that Mendo is supposed to “accept” provides no specifics about the development of “resilience zones” or improving unidentified “central community resources.” If PG&E was serious, they’d offer a tailored presentation with suggestions specific to to Mendo.
NOR does the presentation provide any examples or criteria for what resilience zones might be. Hospitals? Emergency communications? How much back up power is necessary?
PG&E even goes so far as to say: “We welcome your feedback and input. For questions regarding PG&E’s Community Wildfire Safety Program, please direct customers with questions to: Call us at 1-866-743-6589. Email us at email@example.com. Visit pge.com/wildfiresafety.”
AS UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL Editor K.C. Meadows recently put it after a similar PG&E presentation to the Ukiah City Council: “PG&E HATES YOU.”
AT THAT UKIAH CITY COUNCIL PRESENTATION PG&E told the city these “safety” shut-offs could last as many as five days at a time and there may be as many as 80 days this summer when electricity is off. Meadows adds: “Never mind that the technology exists that taps ultrafast synchrophasor sensors to detect and turn off broken power lines before they hit the ground. It is used by San Diego’s power company and communities in Europe, but PG&E thinks that’s too expensive. It’s easier to simply shut us all down over and over to cover their own liability.” Meadows concluded, “We hope that the dire warnings PG&E is giving turn out to be hyperbole. But we don’t trust them to do what’s best for the consumers, only what’s best for their own bottom line. We’ll all be watching.”
ONE OF PG&E’s “new and enhanced safety measures” is described cryptically in their presentation as “Disabling automatic reclosing of circuit breakers and reclosers in high fire-risk areas during wildfire season.”
HUH? WTF? What’s a “recloser”? Why did they mention that without explanation?
PG&E continues: “To further reduce the risk of wildfires, we are disabling automatic reclosing of circuit breakers and reclosers on lines in high fire-risk areas during wildfire season. Where we have remote control capability, we disable reclosing based on a daily decision-making process during times of elevated risk. [We have] Enabled 450 reclosing devices with remote capabilities in 2018. [And we are] Working to enable nearly 300 additional reclosing devices with remote capabilities in advance of the 2019 wildfire season.”
Huh II? WTF II? “Working to”?
AS IF your ordinary County Supervisor has the slightest idea what “disabling automatic reclosing of circuit breakers and reclosers” means.
FORTUNATELY, the SF Chronicle’s Joaquin Palomino covered the subject of reclosers way back in 2017 right after the PG&E-caused fires in Mendo, Lake and Sonoma counties. Not surprisingly, PG&E didn’t come out smelling too good then either. No wonder they don’t bother explaining why this “recloser” item is on their list of (belated) “safety measures”:
“…Reclosers, like automated circuit breakers, send pulses of electricity through power lines that appear to be malfunctioning. If no damage is detected, the recloser automatically restarts the flow of power. But if the lines are compromised and are touching trees or other flammable material, the bursts of electricity can spark flames.
PG&E disclosed [sic] the information in a letter sent Thursday to state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who has long advocated for safer use of the devices.
“A recloser, by its nature and how it functions, can easily start fires if they’re not deactivated,” Hill said. “When we see PG&E only turned off three reclosers in the entire area of Sonoma and Napa counties, it leads one to believe that many weren’t deactivated, and that could have presented a potentially dangerous situation. … Reclosers are used to help prevent unnecessary power outages, which can potentially impede first responders and the operation of critical facilities such as hospitals during an emergency, PG&E wrote in its letter to Senator Hill. … The devices have been partially implicated in past wildfires, including one in Australia that killed 119 people and the 2007 Witch Fire in San Diego County — one of the most destructive in California history. … The decision to de-energize is not one taken in a vacuum. It affects all manner of public safety,” Stephens said. “When you turn off the power, you deactivate it for everything — cell phone towers, Wi-Fi, and grandma and grandpa’s garage doors.”
IN A JUNE 8, 2018 article the San Jose Mercury News reported: “State fire investigators also found that Mendocino County’s Redwood Fire was caused by trees or parts of trees falling into PG&E power lines, Lake County’s Sulphur Fire was caused by the failure of a PG&E power pole that resulted in power lines and equipment contacting the ground, Butte County’s Cherokee Fire resulted from tree limbs contacting PG&E power lines, Sonoma County’s 37 Fire was electrical in origin and linked to PG&E distribution lines, and Humboldt County’s Blue Fire began when a PG&E power line conductor separated from a connector that caused equipment to fall and cause a ground fire. ‘This is a wholesale indictment of PG&E,” said Frank Pitre, an attorney for fire victims who have sued the utility. “PG&E had poor risk-management practices, they had no policy or practice in place to deactivate reclosers or reactivating lines. This is not an isolated incident. This is a failure of management. This is a culture that hasn’t changed’.”
THAT WAS BEFORE THE CAMP FIRE which destroyed the entire town of Paradise last fall.
HAS PG&E’S CULTURE CHANGED NOW? Maybe a little, however retrospectively, but before the Supervisors give PG&E some kind of “acceptance” pass, they should make PG&E do more on their end than just tell us how great their new-found interest in safety is and require them to offer what they’ll do for Mendo when they shut everybody off.
THIS NEW recloser “safety measure” (conveniently unexplained in the presentation) that PG&E is now touting was only “disclosed” when outspoken PG&E critic Senator Jerry Hill brought it up and now they list it as some kind of “safety feature” by PG&E — after they failed to remotely disable them in 2017 even though they could have been and can be remotely disabled.
UPSHOT? PG&E doesn’t “welcome” any feedback or input. Tuesday’s presentation looks more like a one-sided public relations dog & pony show than any actual (belated) “safety” or “assistance” or “partnering” discussion.
WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE Mendo’s Supervisors for once show some backbone and not simply say “thank you” to PG&E’s well-paid, well-dressed presenters for coming all the way to Mendocino County for pretend outreach to announce their shutdowns and then bid them fond farewell with a “please don’t screw us over too much.” Instead, the duly elected representatives of Mendo’s 90,000 or so voters/paying customers should steadfastly REFUSE to “accept” this presentation unless and until PG&E offers something tangible in return. (BTW: Where was PG&E months ago when this “safety” shutdown program first arose and when it would have allowed more time for planning and preparation?)