Local weather Disaster Catches Energy Firms Unprepared

In California, Pacific Gas & Electric is modernizing its transmission network to avoid a repeat of 2018 when a disrupted power line triggered the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and forced the utility into bankruptcy. However, PG&E warned that the work could take a decade to complete. In July, the utility informed regulators that its equipment may have started the Dixie Fire, which has already burned 200,000 acres north of Sacramento.

And customization won’t come cheap. A recent report by consulting firm ICF International estimates utility companies are facing a $ 500 billion deficit to protect their systems against known climate risks.

To pay for forest fire protection, Pacific Gas & Electric has asked California regulators to approve a $ 5.5 billion increase in rates for customers from 2023 to 2026, adding about $ 430 a year to the average household bill could. PG&E is considering burying 10,000 miles of power lines underground, which could cost up to $ 30 billion more.

In the meantime, many local residents are pondering how to leave the lights on when the utility company can’t.

Maureen Kennedy spent this spring researching solar and battery power for her home in Inverness, northwest of San Francisco, as fears of PG&E power cuts grew.

“Your utility company is so unreliable that you must remember to spend $ 18,000 on solar and battery backup,” said Ms. Kennedy, a retired real estate agent.

A PG&E spokesman declined requests to interview utility executives.

Caroline Winn is the managing director of San Diego Gas & Electric, who pioneered many of the techniques that other utility companies have used in forest fires. Your company receives calls and visits from utility workers in Oregon and elsewhere as well as Australia seeking help with fire safety.

But now Ms. Winn is concerned about another climate change threat: sea level rise, which could flood four of the utility’s coastal substations over the next few decades. “The climate doesn’t stay the same,” said Ms. Winn. “It’s getting worse and worse. This is not just a California problem. This is a world problem.”

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