• Flux Magazine

"PG and Oh Gee, Another Blackout?" by Jeffrey Aviña

It was a Wednesday afternoon, two weeks ago now, when I walked down the street in my hometown of Calistoga and looked down to see a grate in the sidewalk with four characters etched into it; 'PG&E'. I rolled my eyes as I walked over it and continued down the street to find somewhere that still had power. 

Thanks to the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), nearly one million PG&E customers lost power during the second blackout. While this put a serious damper on my ability to watch Netflix away from school, it had more serious implications across the affected counties. 

The Kincade Fire, now 100% contained, destroyed 374 structures (174 residential) and approximately 77,000 acres of land. The preceding power shutoff turned off power to an estimated 2.5 million of North Bay customers. Like any person that found themselves without power in California, it is normal to want to ask "Why?". 

The reason behind the power shutoff was to attempt to minimize the risk of a fire starting, due to active power lines, but the reality is that it didn't prevent any fires. In actuality, the leading theory on the cause of the fire is a downed electrical transmission line that was reported on Wednesday night near the fire's point of origin. It belonged to none other than the infamous Pacific Gas and Electric. This angered most naturally since the cause of the Camp Fire, a year prior, was an electrical transmission that hadn't been checked in 25 years. While the Kincade transmission line had been checked earlier this year, it raises suspicion towards the "safety standards" that PG&E is utilizing to fight claims of negligence. 

The case is being pursued by a US Federal Judge, William Alsup, in conjunction with the 2010 San Bruno Pipeline explosion that left eight workers dead. From 2000-2010, PG&E collected 224 million dollars more than they were supposed to in gas and oil revenues. PG&E as well, in those ten years, diverted money that was appropriated for safety and maintenance, making them fall far behind the industry standard. The money, instead, fell into investors' pockets. 

You wouldn't think that the public perception of PG&E could get worse, but it did, after a press conference with the company's CEO, Bill Johnson. A question regarding what low-income households should do about their food going bad during the power shutoff was posed to him. 

Bill responded by saying; "The Kincade Fire is still under investigation -I got that- but one of the things we did was give them the opportunity to actually refill their refrigerator cause their house is still there." 

This sparked outrage amongst an already pissed off state. What the biggest loss for PG&E is, is that of their reputation, they are now the most hated investor-owned company in the history of California. Governor Gavin Newsom has already spoken about plans to reorganize the company by next June to better serve the consumer. 

This never used to happen. I have lived in Napa County my entire life, never did I have to know where the emergency masks were and what I needed to live and what I could live without. I remember waking up in 2017 to see this giant glowing ball of light just over the forest line, moving and growing with the accompanying winds. Was PG&E an annoyance before? Yes. Was there the occasional fire? Yes. Did Fall use to be the best time of the year? Yes, yes it used to be. 

Fires have become a staple of October when it should be about Halloween. If the problem remains unchanged, kids might have to trade their Black Panther mask for particle respirators.

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