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California to Shut Off Electricity to 2.5 Million People Customer to Avoid Wildfires

Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE), which is the largest utility in the largest utility in the state of California, recently announced it will shut off the power to 2.5 million people over the coming weeks in an effort to prevent wildfires. California utilities say it could take as many as five days for the power to come back on after the fire danger has passed as utilities check the lines for fire damage.

California has always been a warm, dry state. Historical records show large fires have occurred in California for thousands of years, so it is no surprise that they still occur today. However, are large reason California wildfires have been so bad lately is environmental mismanagement that severely restricted timber harvesting and resulted in dangerous amounts of fuel for the fire accumulating in California forests.

According to an article in Forbes: 

“Every year about 3.8 billion board feet of new timber grows in the Golden State, capturing almost one metric ton of CO2 per acre in the productive timberland areas. Trees grow until they die, burn, or get harvested. If harvesting declines, tree mortality and fires increase. It’s the tyranny of math.

In the early 1990s, a series of restrictions were placed on logging in the West to protect the Spotted Owl. As it turned out, nature was more complicated than expected, with owl numbers continuing to decline—even after the California timber harvest plummeted—due to predation from other raptors.

In the meantime, the harvest fell below the growth rate in the 1990s, to about 1.5 billion board feet per year over the past decade. The tree harvest on federal lands is now one-tenth of what it was in 1988, President Reagan’s last full year in office.

The California forest report draft concludes by observing that the “Current flux [of CO2] may not be sustainable without forest management!” while citing the challenge of “Aging of forests on federal lands.”

As there were more trees in California, there were more trees to burn.

Forest management is one contributor to the fires in California, but it is impossible to look at this situation without wondering if all the money spend on renewable energy mandates was not a massive opportunity cost, and that this money would have been better spent building underground transmission lines that are far less likely to cause fires during California’s dry season.

California saw its electricity prices increase four times faster than the national average since 2008, when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed an executive order increasing the state’s renewable energy mandate to 33 percent by 2020.

The return on this investment has not been good. Not only have Californians seen their electricity prices skyrocket, but they are more at risk to fires because satisfying renewable energy mandates that appear to have taken precedence over wildfire prevention and upgrades to the transmission grids.

This course of action would have been far more effective at reducing wildfires than reducing CO2 emissions. If we take the Obama Administration’s assumptions for the Clean Power Plan, widely thought to be his signature climate plan, the amount of global warming California would prevent if it completely reduced it’s CO2 emissions (from 2008 levels) from power plants would be only 0.0018 degrees C by 2100, an amount too small to be measured.

In other words, all of the money spent on renewables will not reduce California’s susceptibility in any meaningful way.

This leads to Californians getting the worst of both worlds, they are on the hook for higher electricity prices and the high cost associated with the fire damage. These costs are now being compounded by the mandatory blackouts, which in our increasingly tech-oriented world grinds the economy to a halt.

For example, in California the prospect of blackouts is manifesting in cancelled classes, spoiled food from warm regrigerators, hospitals running on backup generators, spurring investment in backup generators at homes (powered by fossil fuels), potentially more traffic accidents as traffic lights are inoperable, and increasing incidences of heat-related illnesses as air conditioning will not be available. This does not even include the losses businesses will incur due to not having electricity.

California is an example of what not to do, but it doesn’t seem like that message has made it through to Governor Tim Walz and other liberal lawmakers who want to impose California-style energy mandates on our power grid and our cars. If these lawmakers fancy California governance so much, why don’t they move there?

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