The region’s utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), has warned the shutdown could last several days.

The company’s transmission lines started the deadliest wildfire in California’s history last year.

With weather forecasts predicting high winds, the move is intended to prevent the risk of fallen power lines igniting more wildfires.

So, of course, PG&E could have and should have upgraded their infrastructure so this would not be necessary, but they didn’t. They gave large dividends to their stockholders instead.

PG&E is also, well, bankrupt, because of the previous fires it caused, so it isn’t in a position to make necessary improvements now.

But let’s not pretend this is a one company issue. The US has needed massive power infrastructure upgrades since the 80s. Most of PG&E’s infrastructure is 60 to 80 years old. They need to cut back trees around the poles and they need to replace old poles.

This is also a public issue. San Francisco, for example, has had 12 ballot initiatives to create a public utility and refused to do so.

Image by Admit One

People wanted tax cuts, deregulation and overpriced houses. that’s what they got, and a 5 day power outage is one of the prices.

This isn’t a difficult problem. In the 30s through the 70s, utilities were regulated. They were guaranteed a certain profit and required to spend a certain amount of money on upgrades and repairs. Dividends were fixed, and investors knew what they would get every year.

In other words, they were treated as critical infrastructure which needed to be maintained and built properly, and it was worth a bit more cost do so.

You can do this publicly, you can do it privately, you can do it as a combination but you must regulate and inspect them.

Or you can have “cheap” power until there’s a crisis, like massive wildfires, or brown and blackouts, etc.

Waving one’s hands and saying, “The market fairy will make it all happen by the actions of an invisible hand,” gets the usual results.

As for PG&E, the only solution likely to work is to just have government take it over and pay for the necessary work. Once that’s done, don’t privatize it.

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