Tuesday, October 7, 2008

SDGE Proposal...

Recently SDG&E proposed to start making preemptive power cuts during especially high Santa Ana winds (estimated to be a once-in-three-years sort of event). The idea is to reduce the probability of downed power lines starting a fire. The map at right shows the areas where these cuts would take place. Jamul and Lawson Valley are well within the affected areas.

Those of us who live in the affected areas tend to have an immediate reaction of alarm. They're proposing to cut off our power at the very moment when we need it the most – while we're trying to protect our property from a rapidly advancing firestorm. If this proposal becomes actual policy, those of us who can afford it will most likely buy backup generators. Those of us who can't afford it will suddenly be at greater risk.

I don't have any personal knowledge of the probability that a downed power line could start a fire. I do recall that not so many years ago, a helicopter downed a power line near Julian and started the Pines fire. And during our most recent fires – just a year ago – several allegations of wind-blown power lines starting fires were made (these are the subject of the lawsuit mentioned above). What I don't know is the truth of the matter. If in fact there is substantial risk of wind-blown power lines starting fires, then the SDG&E proposal may in fact be worth considering. During one of our hellacious Santa Anas, anything that reduces fire risk is worth considering. I know that during those storms I get very upset when I see smokers outside, or a neighbor burning some brush...

The timing of SDG&E's proposal lends credence to the notion that their real goal is legislative relief from liability for powerline-caused fires. The lawsuit currently wending its way through the court system is exactly on this point.

On the other hand, as a business they have an obligation to their shareholders to mitigate risks. Certainly both the lawsuit (whether based on reality or not) and the possibility of wind-blown power lines starting fires are risks to their shareholders. So from their point of view, this proposal makes perfect sense.

So what's the right thing to do here? For me, the answer depends on a piece of information I don't have: whether strong Santa Ana winds really do have some real chance of causing fires by blowing down power lines. If the answer to that is “yes”, then I think they've got the right idea – and I'll start looking at backup generators. If the answer is “no”, then I think we should oppose this proposal – but give SDG&E that legislative relief from liability.

Do any of my readers know where I can find the answer to that question?

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