Another Year, Another Large Wildfire Started by PGE

PG&E equipment started the Dixie Fire in the Feather River Canyon. The fire has burned 40,500 acres and is 15% contained.

In California Public Utilities Commission documents filed by PG&E, PG&E reports the Cresta Dam off of Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon lost power around 7 a.m. on July 13. A PG&E employee responding to the outage notices a blown fuse uphill from where he was conducting his inspection.

PG&E says the terrain and road work in the area prevented the employee from accessing the area where the fuse was located until roughly 2:40 p.m. Once he arrived in the area the employee found a healthy-looking tree leaning on the conductor and a fire nearby. 911 was called but the fire spread.

PG&E equipment has been blamed for a number of major wildfires in the state over years and it wasn’t the first time the utility was under investigation as a source of a wildfire in the area. The 2018 Camp Fire which killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise was caused by PG&E electrical transmission lines in the Pulga area.

The Zogg Fire began in late September, 2020 in California’s Shasta County, destroyed 204 structures, causing four fatalities and injuring one person. The 50,000 acre Zogg Fire caused about $275 million in damage.

$625 million in potential claims from the 2019 Kincade Fire, which investigators say was caused by a faulty PG&E transmission line. Separately, PG&E agreed to pay $13.5 billion to cover uninsured losses from the 2018 Camp Fire and the 2017 wine country fires.

PGE has a long history of incompetence. PGE was responsible for poisoning the town of Hinkley. This was made into the movie Erin Brockovich.

PG&E the Northern California utility has allowed its 106,681 circuit miles of electric distribution lines and 18,466 circuit miles of interconnected transmission lines to end up in a poorly maintained and dangerous condition.

In 2019, Sumeet Singh, vice president of PG&E’s community wildfire safety program, estimated that it could take 10 to 14 years for PG&E to finish updating about 7,100 miles of power lines in high fire risk areas, and 8 years to improve vegetation management on 25,000 miles of lines in high-risk areas.

Long-term widespread power outages cost businesses and people billions of dollars. The SF Bay Area has a GDP of about $900 billion. Disrupting all business for an entire day would cost $2.5 billion.

PGE is causing both billions in wildfire damage and billions in wide spread power outages and unreliable power service.

PGE and the California government have not maintained and managed the forest and vegetation areas. It has been known for a hundred years that wide fire breaks are needed to stop fires from getting too large. This is the fifth year in a row of recent major fire-related problems. The necessary steps to address this are nowhere near complete.

Pictures show how obvious the damage to critical equipment is and was. PG&E has 24,000 employees. A few hundred inspectors would add 1% to the staffing expense of the company. PG&E could and did afford a series of detailed inspections of equipment. An inspection program completed over months, affordably identified over 11,000 critical and major equipment problems. If each cost an average of $100,000 to fix then it would cost $1.1 billion to fix the 11,000 identified problems in high fire zones. PG&E could forego profits for a year to fix all those problems and could spend 1-2% to stay on top of the proper inspection of the equipment.

Climbing inspections were required according to PG&E owns rules. They would have revealed the worn hook that broke on Nov. 8, 2018 which led to the ignition of a fire that killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings. Timely replacement of the hook could have prevented ignition of the Camp Fire according to the CPUC report (Report is 259 megabytes and over 696 pages).

In 2018-2019, PG&E has finally inspected some 50,000 transmission towers and structures, 700,000 distribution poles and 222 substations — covering more than 5,500 miles of transmission line and 25,200 miles of distribution line in high fire-threat areas. They finally inspected all aspects of the assets, including cross-arms, insulators and footings, along with critical electrical components and equipment. They inspected electric towers and poles from top to bottom through ground, climbing, helicopter or drone inspections. They identified more than 11,000 problems in high fire zones, about 1,000 of them considered critical. It found 18 critical problems on the Caribou-Palermo line, what it called a “significant number” and brought in an outside consulting firm at the request of state regulators to conduct a records-based review of that line.

California’s government has also mandated 100% renewable energy. This will cost many billions of dollars. Many billions have already been spent. PG&E and the other utilities had requested that they spend less on maintenance to have capital spending to build required renewable power but still maintain their permitted profit margins.

There were 12 violations of agency rules and regulations as part of their Camp Fire findings. PG&E’s own policy require climbing inspection on towers where recurring problems exist. The wear on the arms should have served as a red flag to look for wear in other steel components, like hanger plates, regulators said. Hanger plates are key because they secure the hooks to the tower structure. The report noted that post-fire inspections found 13 dangerously worn hanger plates on the Caribou-Palermo line.

The very next tower was 800 feet from the tower which caused the fire also had an urgent problem. PG&E spotted the urgent safety hazard in September 2018. PG&E failed to prioritize it for immediate repair when it was spotted in September 2018. PG&E gave itself a year to fix the problem.

PG&E Corp. failed to adequately inspect and maintain its transmission lines for years according to a 696-page report by the California Public Utility Commission.

PG&E and California need to stop building any renewables until they finish all power line maintenance. They need to fix it all this year and maintain and clear the growth of forests near their lines. Once that is all done and annual maintenance is properly handled then other non-emergency capital spending can occur.

SOURCES- PGE, Sac Bee, CPUC report
Written By Brian Wang,

11 thoughts on “Another Year, Another Large Wildfire Started by PGE”

  1. What’s more important: (a) properly maintaining the transmission/distribution system to provide reliable power today; or (b) spending vast sums of money on green energy for a potential problem that lies in the distant future? That really is the choice, as the rate payers only have limited incomes. The answer is painfully obvious.

  2. PG&E is too big to succeed. The system they operate needs to be broken up into smaller utility districts owned and operated by the counties. Why is a dangerous system allowed to exist and the timeline for repair acceptable at 10+ years. Customers of PG&E have paid for maintenance in their bills since day one its a component of the rate structure approved by the PUC. Since corporations are considered to have the same rights as individuals why not hold them accountable as individuals, prison for managers and directors. Sad so sad.

  3. Australia has comparable fire threats and conditions – yet they resist, survive, and prosper after each season and with droughts and temperatures far more extreme… two routes ->
    1- pro-active – design and build better homes, communities, and infrastructure -or-
    2- economically nudge – make home insurance in such areas commensurate with risks (i.e. ridiculously expensive and restrictive)

    #1 worked in Australia, #2 worked in US flooding and wind areas – way fewer low-end developments, way more insurance-abiding construction

  4. god of welding and blacksmithing and kiln art?
    Agreed that such industries contribute disproportionately to particulate pollution and mis-directed artisinal weaponry production, but weather-related flame spread and mis-managed burn zones and infrastructure appear to also have cursed and forsaken us.

  5. Actually, it Business Insider is one of the few I see out there that even mentions O'Neill, and this is a very good article. But, if the popular press is utterly unaware of Space Solar, in an article about energy, and Bezos, well, that is progress!

  6. If "traditional" news outlets had the interest or ability to cover science and engineering then this site wouldn't exist.

  7. So why has no one demonstrated power beaming with realistic power levels over realistic distances? Everyone is too stupid? It's a conspiracy?

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