Federal Judge Finds PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Blackouts Flawed, Don’t Do Enough
The federal judge supervising PG&E’s probation found that the company’s power shutoffs, meant to prevent wildfires, are flawed and don’t accomplish enough to protect California from wildfires.
The judge, US District Judge William Alsup, is currently probing the Zogg Fire, which killed four people in Shasta County in September. Alsup is now requiring that PG&E consider which power lines have been cleared of trees before shutting down the lines during wind events.
Alsup said he wants PG&E to “protect the people of California from yet further death and destruction caused by the offender’s continuing failure to operate its power grid safely.”
Alsup noted that PG&E found that 334 trees or limbs fell on their power lines during four Public Safety Power Shutoffs in October 2019, and that 234 of the trees or limbs could have caused wildfires.
“It is most confounding that PG&E, in deciding which distribution lines to de-energize in a PSPS, ignored (and still ignores) the number one cause of wildfires ignited by PG&E: hazardous trees and limbs that should have, by law, been removed but which still loom as threats in windstorms,” Alsup wrote. “There can be no debate about the dangers of dead, dying, and untrimmed trees near live distribution lines.”
Alsup noted that a December monitor’s report found issues with PG&E’s vegetation management, including letting trees threaten power lines in violation of the law in California.
Alsup noted that PG&E has ignited at least 20 wildfires in California killing at least 111 people, destroying at least 22,627 structures and burning 500,000 acres.
Alsup implied that profit motives were behind PG&E’s actions, saying that after the Wine Country fires in 2017, the company, “though flush with cash, fled into bankruptcy to minimize its liability for those wildfires.”
Utilities are mandated to clear trees from power lines in California so windstorms don’t cause them to fall onto lines, starting fires.
“It’s not a matter of landscaping or gardening,” Alsup wrote. “It’s a matter of life and death.”
Lawsuits are currently being filed on behalf of victims of the Zogg Fire, which burned approximately 56,000 acres in Shasta County, Tehama County and the towns of Igo and Ono, and destroyed 204 structures. The lawsuits allege that the fire started because of PG&E’s negligence in failing to maintain its power lines and the vegetation surrounding them.
“Rather than spend the money it obtains from customers for infrastructure maintenance and safety, PG&E redirects this funding to boost its own corporate profits and compensation. This pattern and practice of favoring profits over having a solid and well-maintained infrastructure that would be safe and dependable for years to come left PG&E vulnerable to an increased risk of a catastrophic event such as the Zogg Fire,” states one lawsuit.