California Can Expect More Blackouts As Utilities Companies Move To Stop Fires — And Lawsuits


Publish Date:
October 10, 2019
The Verge
Related Person(s):


This week, the lights went out for hundreds of thousands of residents in San Francisco’s Bay Area — the most widespread intentional outages in California history — on the say-so of utility company Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E, which is facing billions in lawsuits from previous fires, cut the power to avoid another blaze as well as the expensive lawsuits that come with wildfires, some experts say.

These outages are likely to be the new normal for California, at least for the near future. Some critics say the PG&E outages are excessive and that it’s the bankrupt company’s poor maintenance of its equipment and the fear of litigation that’s really behind its decision to power down.


“All those factors together mean that PG&E is extremely careful now, to try to take preemptive action,” says Barton Thompson, Jr., a professor of natural resources law at Stanford Law School. “Obviously PG&E is is particularly attuned to the need to take action. Part of that is wildfires, part of it is simply public scrutiny and prior public criticism.”

PG&E’s creaky grid is straining at the same time that climate change is fueling fiercer fires. California is getting hotter and drier, and that means more dead vegetation that turns into fuel for wildfires. The area torched by wildfires in the Golden State each year grew by 500 percent between 1972 and 2018, thanks to climate change. California’s fire season has also gotten longer by more than two months. Between the increased likelihood of fires and PG&E’s new sensitivity to liability, Californians should expect more blackouts, says Thompson. That’s especially true in October, the peak of wildfire season in California.

Read More