The plan by San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) to turn off electricity to large portions of the county during periods of strong winds and low fuel moisture is being applauded by some and criticized by others. The company’s power lines have been blamed for starting numerous large fires over the last 40 years and they are probably very concerned about their liability and how it will affect their profits.
They have several options:
- Reduce the chances that the power lines will start fires by ensuring that wooden poles, fuses and switches are in satisfactory condition, replacing some wooden poles with metal poles, putting some lines underground, improving their tree-trimming programs along the lines, and inspecting the lines more frequently.
- Implement the preemptive power outage program during Santa Ana wind events. This risks receiving heavy criticism from their customers who need power for medical equipment, traffic lights, telephones, garage door openers, and water systems. Convince tens of thousands of individuals, companies, and agencies to purchase and install emergency backup power systems, or have SDG&E pay for the systems. Option #2 may result in them getting sued.
- Do nothing, and continue to have their power lines start fires. They will continue to get sued if they choose this option.
As far as we know, this is an unprecedented plan, turning off power to large areas because the lines may start a fire during strong winds. They may be hoping that by scaring the public about losing their power, the state legislature will exempt the company from liability.
The scare-the-public tactic works for the Bush administration. It may work for SDG&E.