‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ is a tune taking on new meaning for folks in the San Francisco Bay Area, as nearly a million NorCal residents brace themselves for blackouts this week.
No, it’s not due to some wiseass scion of Silicon Valley hacking the grid; nor is it a protest stunt by angst-ridden displaced artists. It’s the provider of electricity themselves, Pacific Gas and Electric.
Why would an electric utility shut itself down, you ask? Well, back in October 2017 the Tubbs Fire burned 36,807 acres—nearly 60 square miles—of Napa and Sonoma counties, making it California’s most devastating wildfire ever. Until, that is, a year later when the Camp Fire said, ‘hold my beer’ and scorched 153,336 acres—240 square miles—of Northern California land, killing 85 people and destroying 18,804 buildings, including the entire township of Paradise. These and other fires had people pointing fingers at PG&E, and blame for the Camp Fire has fallen on a faulty power line. With winds slated to gust up to 60 miles an hour this week, whipping over Northern California’s tinder-dry grasslands, the utility has implemented energy grid shutdowns for safety.
While frustrating (some residents have been egging their corporate offices, and one PG&E vehicle was shot at today), the move makes sense. PG&E knows their infrastructure has problems. Back in 2010 the company was convicted of six felonies for a gas pipeline explosion near San Francisco. Faced with these latest accusations, PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection last January to help save itself from a barrage of fines, reparations, and civil suits stemming from their wildfire liabilities that could now total over $40 billion.
So what’s to be done? Well, one way of quickly fix the problem would be laying all their power lines underground, but the utility claims the costs associated with that (up to over a million dollars a mile) are too prohibitive. Better to just burn stuff down then beg for protection when the fault is laid at their feet.
As Bay Area residents strip stores of generators, batteries, flashlights, water, and food to prepare themselves for darkness that could last up to a week, there is one silver lining: skateboarding. With police so focused on actual crime, the outage could be a boon for skating in the Bay Area. If you’re wondering if your SF homies are in the dark, you can check out a live map of the blackout areas by clicking here. And while we’d never wish the heartache of fire on anyone, the aftermath of the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire is the stuff of skateboarding legend: with 2800 homes burned, pool skaters found themselves in heaven.