PG&E admits it may have started another wildfire

SAN FRANCISCO – Pacific Gas and Electric told state utility regulators a damaged fuse box from a power line might be responsible for starting the large Dixie Fire currently ablaze in the Sierra Nevada mountains, another example of PG&E’s inadequate and dangerous power line management that highlights the perils of a centralized grid.

The fire, which started last week, has now burned more than 47 square miles and is only 15 percent contained, according to the state forest fire agency, CAL FIRE.

In a report filed late Sunday with the California Public Utilities Commission, or PUC, PG&E said that on July 13, a repairman noticed a tree on fire leaning against the top of a power line pole that had several blown fuses.

The Dixie Fire is about 15 miles northeast of the town of Paradise, the location of the 2018 Camp Fire, caused by unmaintained PG&E transmission lines, that killed 85 people and destroyed the town. The company ultimately pled guilty to manslaughter for each of the deaths of those who died because of the fire.

“PG&E’s rap sheet of manslaughter and mayhem is unmatched among electric utilities in the U.S. and could very well be the cause of more fatalities and property destruction this summer and beyond,” said EWG President and longtime Bay Area resident Ken Cook.

“With advances in decentralized power generation and storage, notably rooftop solar installations and community microgrids, this latest admission from PG&E ought to confirm two conclusions. First, PG&E is not a company to be trusted to safeguard the environment or human health,” Cook said.

“Second, the era of all-powerful, monopoly electric utilities should be brought a swift close in California and replaced with bold, sustainable, localized energy systems that both power and empower communities across the Golden State,” he added. “This transition cannot happen soon enough in the case of PG&E. It is literally a matter of life and death.”

Earlier this month, the utility – reviled by many ratepayers – petitioned the PUC for a $3.6 billion rate increase for its 16 million customers for, ironically, wildfire prevention measures.

The only concrete way to prevent future wildfires caused by PG&E and other large utilities is to reform the current model of centralized electricity distribution that sends energy hundreds of miles through often unmaintained and dilapidated power lines over dry, drought-ridden central and Northern California landscape covered in brush that fuels these fires.

Locally generated and distributed renewable electricity, primarily from solar, would dramatically reduce rolling blackouts initiated by utilities to prevent fires that are often triggered by power lines traversing the state, like the one that PG&E admitted could be the cause of the Dixie Fire, which doubled in size in the past 48 hours.

But PG&E, along with Southern California Edison and San Diego Power & Electricity, are pushing the PUC to quash the state’s rooftop solar program, which allows homeowners and businesses to sell back surplus energy to the state’s utilities. The three big investor-owned utilities are furious over having to pay their customers for the excess energy generated from rooftop solar panels.

The popular program was deployed to reduce the state’s reliance on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in order to help combat the climate crisis. And it helps mitigate the risks of fires caused by downed or damaged power lines.

“PG&E is actively plotting to kill this critical component of California’s energy policy that, if allowed to continue growing throughout the state, could reduce the risk of wildfires,” added Cook. “The PUC and Gov. Gavin Newsom should use their authority to block this outrageous power grab by PG&E and the other utilities.”

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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