This is a guest post by Tom Daly.
PG&E has announced a plan to shut off power to vast areas of its service area in high wind events in dry conditions as a measure to insulate itself from the financial risk of its power distribution system starting wildfires. In June, 22,000 customers in California’s wine country and Sierra Nevada foothills lost power unexpectedly. So now NV Energy is proposing a similar state-wide plan here to terminate power in ‘high’ and ‘extreme’ wildfire zones during ‘Red Flag’ events. See the Washoe County wildfire zones here https://gis.washoecounty.us/wrms/firehazard.
This plan was briefed to Mt. Rose corridor residents in a community meeting on June 1st, sponsored by the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District (TMFPD). In addition to our fire officials reviewing wildfire prevention protocols and evacuation plans, NV Energy representatives announced the power shutdown plan. This plan, if approved, would affect thousands of residents with little to no advance warning and with no defined schedule for restoring power.
What could possibly go wrong?
Consider a few issues. Washoe County’s most devastating wildfires, the 2011 Caughlin Ranch fire and the 2016 Little Valley fire, occurred in the wee hours of the morning. If you think organizing the evacuation of your family, pets and home at night is a challenge, try also doing that in darkness. Can you open your garage door without power in the dark?
Our reverse 911 system, to provide a wildfire warning to potentially affected homeowners, is not robust and much delayed in activation, when needed, so your notice to evacuate could be short or non-existent.
Residents who depend on medical equipment or devices needing power, will be further challenged dealing with whatever ‘Plan B’ they have, while also trying to simultaneously evacuate.
Our water system, needed by area fire departments and homeowners to fight wildfires, is dependent on pumps which, in turn, need power. Those pumps do not have backup generators, so turning off the power mostly turns off the water.
Not all critical facilities needed during a wildfire emergency, including fire stations, have backup generators.
Alternatives to NV Energy turning off the power would be to begin the long process of placing the most high-risk power lines underground in critical wildfire zones, replacing wooden power poles with metal or concrete poles, strengthening supports for power line towers, reducing the distance between poles to reduce the arcing potential and implementing fuel reduction projects along its power line rights-of-way.
Those measures, however, would require a more robust investment in NV Energy’s infrastructure and operations, likely reducing bonuses for its executives and returns to its bondholders and stockholders or, more likely, increasing your electric bill.
NV Energy’s plan to shut down power would threaten its customers while protecting its stockholders.
Let’s hope Nevada’s Public Utilities Commission Chairwoman Ann Pongracz considers this plan with citizens’ safety, not corporate profits, as her first priority.