California Plan To Prevent Wildfires Includes Shutting Off 5 Million Americans' Power

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PG&E, California’s largest utility, is considering shutting off power to as much as an eighth of Californians during times of high fire danger, The Wall Street Journal reports.

PG&E’s service area covers 5.4 million people in fire-prone regions. The utility may initiate a blackout to keep its electric lines from sparking and starting fires during high winds.

The plan is tacit acknowledgement that the utility cannot always fulfill its mission of providing electricity safely and reliably, according to The Journal.

The utility is “essentially shifting all of the burden, all of the losses onto everyone else,” Dylan Feik, the former city manager of Calistoga, California, told The Journal.

No U.S. utility has ever intentionally cut services to such a wide swath of people.

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A blackout could cost the utility’s customers a significant amount financially, as well as endangering many, such as senior citizens who are dependent on electrical medical devices.

PG&E said that it may keep a blackout in place for as long as five days.

Households and grocery stores that store perishable goods may lose a substantial amount of food and other products.

Utilities across California are reshaping the state’s electricity market. PG&E declared bankruptcy in January and shed more than $40 billion worth of contracts, largely with green energy companies, to help get the business on secure financial footing.

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The company’s financial turmoil may have lasting effects on California’s grid as well as impede the state’s goal of becoming 100-percent green energy reliant by 2045.

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year mandating the green energy goal.

As the utility has drowned in liabilities, it cut ties with its former CEO Geisha Williams in January shortly before filing for bankruptcy.

Californians are already paying some of the highest prices for electricity in the U.S.

PG&E and other investor-owned utilities are asking state regulators to bump up the price of electricity more to cover the cost of wildfire liability.

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