California Wild Fires Need a Permanent Solution

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Photo of low flying airplane in smokey sky helping extinguish fire
Photo Credit: Ben Kuo

Rampant fires throughout California have sparked new conversations around the utilities' lack of accountability for their infrastructure and insufficient recognition of the climate crisis. In the past, fires were regarded as a seasonal yet manageable force of nature due to dry and hot Santa Ana winds. Every year homeowners cut down brush past property lines and campers refrained from building fires in the forests; across the state careful measures were taken, yet the season was never cause for alarm.

In 2018 PG&E's power line negligence caused death and devastation, while statewide mandatory blackouts forced over a million homeowners to live without power this year. The conversation has shifted away from blaming the season, to holding utilities accountable. Which brings up the question, can these even be called 'wild' fires anymore? Perhaps a new term should be created that points to the real cause, human processes and human error. During these outages, California solar companies received an influx of calls requesting batteries in an effort to reduce reliance on the grid. These complete solar panel and battery systems solve the short term power problem for families who own their own home, but leave the rest of the population in the dark.

Gloomy photo of charred vegetation and silohuettes of utility power lines
Photo Credit: David Hellmann

Programs like Community Choice Energy (CCE) seek to bring local control to energy production by prioritizing rooftop solar and local clean energy projects. These programs are gaining popularity throughout California in cities that have made legally binding promises to get to net zero emissions by a contracted date. They recognize the urgency of our climate crisis and seek to solve it from the ground up.

Unfortunately, the utilities have yet to adapt. PG&E has stated that these blackouts are bound to occur for the next decade, revealing a dark future for Californians. The more fossil fuels burned, the hotter the planet becomes, which results in more fires and longer power outages. This isn't a stable model for the future. Our communities deserve a sustainable and equitable power production and distribution system that will support generations to come.

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