Friday, July 26, 2019

Another PG&E Update

                                                                                                  written 14 July 2019
                                                                                              published 21 July 2019
                                                                                                   posted 26 July 2019

            Last week PG&E presented the Board of Supervisors with a description of their proposed power shut downs, and how they are preparing.  It was the same slide presentation given to the Ukiah City Council last month.  In the interval, people have begun to absorb the implications of these shut downs, and outrage and fear were on display this time. The California Public Utility Commission decided the shut downs would be at the discretion of PG&E, without input from the cities and counties affected.  This allows PG&E to avoid fire liability, but shifts costs to customers, cities, and counties.  
            A century of power grid development has created a society dependent on constant access to electricity.  We are now required to change that structure in a matter of months, with little planning and no funding from PG&E.  With little infrastructure in place to keep electrical services operating at home and on the job, cities and the county still have obligations to protect their citizens.  First responders, mental and physical health care, basic social services, police and sheriff: all will be expected to operate as usual in a situation that will be anything but usual.  The potential for collateral damage is huge.  Even if everything works out, the added costs have not been budgeted, in a county that is already running with little fiscal margin.
            For the past few weeks I have asked every person and business I encounter how they are preparing for the coming shut downs.  Many people haven't even heard about the issue. Some in the city of Ukiah think that because we are a municipal power system we won't be affected.  Folks on the coast think this is an inland fire issue. Others have begun to prepare, laying in food, maybe buying a generator.  
            My dentist bought a generator to keep his refrigerated supplies, but doesn't plan to be open for business.  Restaurants may still have gas to cook, but no power for vent hoods. At the county presentation, it was mentioned that there are no gas stations with backup generators north of Coyote Valley.  How many folks will still have gainful employment during a power down?  How many can afford a week off without pay?  What will this do to the tourist economy and the tax income of the cities and county? 
            Costco stocked generators, which quickly sold out. Who is wiring up these units?  How is the gasoline, propane, or diesel being stored?  We could have a power down due to weather conditions out of our area, and yet find ourselves fighting fires caused by the response to the emergency.  This summer we will probably experience a series of these shut downs, and everyone will learn more about what is required and what has been overlooked.  Next year we will be better prepared, but we still have to live through this one.
            This crisis is the intersection of a destabilized climate colliding with our declining economic empire.  The UN recently noted that there is a major weather event some place on the planet every week now.  As I write, New Orleans is being evacuated ahead of a tropical storm which will inundate the already soggy Mississippi valley.  In our area, fire is the dominant issue.  We are in uncharted climate territory now, and our social infrastructures are old, needing massive reinvestment, but underfunded to make the stock market fantasy appear alive and well.  For the benefit of a few, the rest of us have to scramble to keep a quality of life to which we have become accustomed.
            While it is easy to focus on PG&E, a typically arrogant corporation, valuing only shareholders and executive bonuses, we must recognize our part in this unfolding disaster.  Climate change warnings began over 40 years ago, becoming more acute every year, but are generally ignored.  Real change requires a deep examination of the structure of our society and our individual notion of who we are as a person.  The pattern is thousands of years old, deeply imbedded, mostly operating unconsciously.  We believe we can separate our fate from that of other humans and other life forms.  In a unity reality, this is a fundamental error, and we are now experiencing the consequences of this delusion.