California Blackout: Turning the Lights Off

The adaptations to the “new normal” of elective and large-scala PG&E blackouts in California has only begun. The utility has warned it may impose its biggest blackout so far over this weekend due to high winds and continued bone-dry conditions. The first blackout hit about 2 million people; the one earlier this week, about 450,000, and this weekend’s could affect as many as the first but be of longer duration.

I’m going to keep this short because I anticipate readers will have quite a few comments.

It’s not just PG&E; SoCalEd turned out the lights for about 26,000 customers. NBC reports that a good rule of thumb is that a customer represents about 2.5 people, so call it 65,000. But the PG&E blackouts have been far and away the largest, and the utility has been in its customers’ faces by telling them to expect this sort of thing for as much as a decade. Given how well PG&E is managed, if the execs and shareholders don’t lose their spots in the bankruptcy, expect the “hardening” to take even longer.

Hardware stores report that batteries and backup generators are sold out. And the rush to install backup generators is a climate change negative, since most run on diesel fuel.

It is hard to see how individuals who rely on equipment, such as the injured or handicapped not being able to use elevators in their buildings, or homeowners with electrical septic tanks, get by. New York City had a dose of that in the aftermath of Sandy in the blackout areas. Some people were bringing food to the elderly and other mobility-restricted individuals. But that sort of ad hoc charity too often has gaps. People would walk uptown to get a coffee and charge their phones. That is going to look like a luxury in a long-lived blackout in California.

The Wall Street Journal describes how businesses in blackout area have been hard hit. The ones that suffer the most are small grocers that don’t have generators. And for them, the cost of buying a generator ($100,000) or renting one ($20,000 per day) is prohibitive. Most small businesses are precarious. How long before they start folding? How long before that starts affecting employment, at least in local communities?

The Journal starts with the expected vignette:

The last time PG&E Corp. shut off electricity in the Sierra Nevada foothills city of Placerville, Calif., Pop Art Custom Framing Gallery lost about $8,000 in four days, according to Daniel Anderson, who owns the store with his wife.

Now, the power is off again, part of a second wave of intentional blackouts PG&E imposed this week so that forecast high winds won’t knock down one of its lines and spark a wildfire. Pop Art faces even more losses that Mr. Anderson said his family can’t afford…

Grocery stores have been among the most affected during the shutdown because of their perishable inventory. Preliminary numbers indicate that grocers in California lost anywhere from $3,000 to $100,000 a store from the last blackout, said Ronald Fong, chief executive of the California Grocers Association trade group…

In Placerville’s historic downtown, only four of the 86 merchants surveyed during the last outage had backup generators, said Heidi Mayerhofer of the Placerville Downtown Association. She estimates the businesses lost hundreds of thousands of dollars during the last blackout and stand to lose untold thousands more in the new shutdown, depending how long it lasts.

Governor Gavin Newsom is looking mighty ineffective. Of course, he inherited a mess very long in the making, but he is still nominally the guy in charge. He proposed that PG&E pay small businesses $250 each for the outage. The gesture went over badly since $250 is bupkis compared to the losses. And PG&E gave the passive aggressive blowoff of saying that it appreciated the feedback.

And PG&E is seen as positioning itself to oust Newsom. From David in Santa Cruz, by e-mail:

It’s a pretty transparent repeat of the 2003 recall, except that they don’t have a Hollywood-type waiting in the wings. Someone I know plugged-in to the alt-right says the recall campaign is already in motion, funded (no doubt) by the energy people.

Newsom has to see them coming.

Needless to say, here are the ugly dynamics of a one-party state. As we can see from CalPERS, California has open incompetence and corruption, yet without the threat of the other party making political hay from it. It’s easy to snigger at the virtually expected bribery and abuses you see in the South, but it’s hard to take high and mighty California seriously with its long-standing failure to crack down on PG&E imperiling life, limb, and the almighty economy.

Yes, there’s the original sin of how the utility privatizations were executed, with the generating plants separated from the power lines. But having recognized that mistake and the consequences, there’s no excuse, save for the “Jake, it’s Chinatown” sort, for not having required PG&E to invest more and charge more.

So California is giving the rest of the US a preview of what will be in store for areas with aged transmission facilities and/or vulnerability of fires. And in some ways California is better able to cope. For the most part, power outages won’t result in people dying of cold or heatstroke. But how many people who need to get in front of risks like this can and will do so? The US has gotten to be very bad at collective responses, and individual action takes time and money that many lack.

So practice the brace position, or count your blessings if by virtue of planning or luck you are not likely to be hit by climate change blowback soon.

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  1. Fazal Majid

    I expect this will lead to booming sales of Tesla’s Powerwall battery electric storage systems. While originally designed to bank solar power instead of selling it for a pittance to the utility, they can also charge off grid power.

  2. jackiebass

    Perhaps most commercial backup generators are diesel but that isn’t true for homeowners. Anyone served by natural gas probably has a natural gas run generator. If not natural gas then propane is probably the second choice. Where I live in upstate NY state near the PA border, I don’t know anyone that has a diesel backup generator.

    1. Clive

      Diesel combustion is dirty but the carbon footprint of bottled gas isn’t much better. And the efficiency of small natural gas gensets is risible — 25-30% thermal efficiencies at best compared to 40+% from combined cycle gas turbines above 600MWe.

      And a lot of these adhoc domestic solutions are installed incorrectly — there’s too much potential for non-code compliant hookups to domestic wiring or having to rely on crude options like running extension cables. For the former, you can kill a linesman if you send power back through the grid alongside supposedly disconnected lines. For the latter, few people appreciate it isn’t possible to provide a satisfactory earth (think you guys normally refer to it as a ground) equipotential bonding for loads which are simply plugged into a generator’s sockets. There’s a real risk of electrocution.

      1. inode_buddha

        Doesn’t Cali require code inspection and licensed electricians?
        NY certainly does. You will not get a generator unless it is properly isolated from the grid.

        Also, have you not heard of the EPA Tier3 requirements? That is why most older diesel designs are now illegal in the US. The entire fleet of engines is being scrapped and replaced slowly, to meet the air requirements.

        1. Clive

          Think there’s little that can be done about people buying portable generators online or in camping stores or similar and just messing around with them at home until they can “get them working”. And even for installations to the fixed wiring (which should only of course be done by licenced electricians), if only that it could be guaranteed they will all be done to the regulations. I was, forgive the pun (and I consider myself lucky I wasn’t in actuality) shocked at the kinds of lash-ups I saw in people’s homes in the US (and these were $1M+ houses so it wasn’t due to lack of cash). People have no idea, unless they are qualified in this area, whether a job has been done right or not. If you’ve been off supply for a day, you’ll be susceptible to any “solution” being sold to you, by any Tom, Dick or Harry “qualified electrician”.

          1. inode_buddha

            True, there is nothing to stop some random clown from buying a portable and backfeeding his house with it. So long as he disconnects the house from the grid and keeps it that way, I see no prob.

            If being off supply for a day induces panic I suggest seeking professional help.

            As for myself, we practice lock-out/tag-out at work. I do heavy industrial maintenance, so yes I am in fact qualified. If you throw a switch or shut off a pipe, you must put your padlock on it per OSHA.

            1. ambrit

              Oh, oh, oh! I’ve heard of OSHA! Ain’t it one of them there Carpetbagger “innovations?”
              (I have worked on ‘Lock Out Tag Out’ jobs and get your point. When I prepared our former house down on the Coast, I put in a throw switch between the meter and the panel. Alas, all that was not good against twenty feet of water in the house.)

          2. Titus

            Clive, to some extent there’s no cure for Stupidity. A small generator used outside, connected with the correct sized extension cords to a device isn’t going to cause feedback back problems. The issue is with 5000 + watt gens not connected with transfer relays devices. Instead, people try to connect them directly to the ‘fuse box’. This is illegal, and could kill a linesman, burn your house down, kill everyone in your house, and cause appliances to explode – just to start. One should really pull a permit, get an licensed electrician with experience. Even when installed these systems need to be maintained and tweaked. Am an EE and designed the system but no way would install it. I’d add not doing so void your insurance.

            1. Clive

              Depends on the device. Unless it is double insulated, it needs a ground (earth) wire. I’m simplifying the topic here as another consideration is EP bonding.

              You cannot get that from a generator connection. No if’s, no but’s. It is a physical impossibility.

              You can kill a child, anyone with a heart condition which leads to inherent susceptibility, or, depending on the conditions, a healthy adult, with 10-20 amps at 110v. This is perfectly in the range of output for a small 1000 -2000w generator. Kill, as in dead. Dead as in, if you’re especially unlucky, dying in a painful and horrible way. It can happen and it has happened.

              I know I’m telling people what they don’t want to hear. I know that people who are using portable generators are not doing so out of choice. But please, I am almost begging people here, consider not once, not twice, but a hundred times before simply having a go and trying to get backup power organised yourself without a lot of skilled and knowledgeable — and above all else experienced — advice. Reading a book or following some guy on YouTube is not sufficient.

              If you absolutely must use one, at least, if you’re not using double insulated loads (or merely aren’t sure) then make sure you’ve established a grounding. But that isn’t as easy to do as it is to say. This really needs to be a permanent installation using correctly-sized components (e.g. here, this kind of thing, but local US variants will differ). But the chances of a layperson, sorting this all out for themselves correctly, with the equipment and skills needed to test the impedance, is slim-to-none.

      2. Bob

        Please let’s not fear monger.
        While there are dangers in back feeding the grid via private generators, “Transfer Switches” are required as per the National Electrical Code.
        If the transfer switch is unavailable the main disconnect at the circuit breaker box is another safe effective way of isolating the generator from the grid.

        1. Clive

          Balderdash. Transfer switches may be required, but desperate people do desperate things. Not necessarily maliciously, perhaps just through ignorance. And your notion that just flipping the utility’s disconnect breaker is just fine says how little you appreciate correct mitigation of risks where electricity is concerned. It only takes carelessness or inattentiveness to accidentally flip the breaker back to closed rather than open (easy to do when you’re intermittently on and off utility supply) and you’ll never know. Only the linesman you electrocuted will be aware.

          I’m appalled at how easily some people rush to adopt an “it’ll be fine, what y’a fussin’ ‘bout” approach and justify what is running a risk, but it’s not a risk to them. Sorry if I’ve touched a nerve in people who are winging it and know they are winging it through use of their own bodge-it-themselves installations, but right is right and wrong is wrong.

          1. Steve H.

            Clive, I’m winging it and I know I’m winging it. In our case, it’s an indoor rocket stove for when the power goes down midwinter and there ain’t no other heat.

            The California note reminded me of my Monolithic Dome training in Texas. They chose Texas so they could experiment, on the order of 25 bucks to build a building and if it fails it’s on you. Cali meant thousands of dollars before shovel hit sand.

            And that’s a company with means. The hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. who can’t meet regulation in their solutions to thermodynamic issues make precautionary principle violations inevitable. Guard yourself at all times.

            1. Clive

              I sympathise and do not envy anyone being forced into the kinds of positions were being forced into.

              When my utility subjected us to months of nuisance tripping caused by poor vegetation management and slipshod maintenance on the local transformer (and clearly had neither the skills nor the procedures to do proper fault diagnosis) I was left without power often last winter for hours at a time and the only heat was in the living room with a gas fireplace that had a mechanical ignition. All other heat needed electricity (heat pumps as stage one, gas boiler and radiators needing power for running and a pump for stage two).

              I started to dread the power going off, a day or two you can live with, perpetual limbo is much harder. I got a UPS designed for computer equipment in the end, it will run a laptop PC, phone charger and some LED lights for a few hours. So long as I am only plugging double-insulated devices into it, the lack of a satisfactory ground wire is tolerable and the 250w power supply is only a couple of amps at our 230v line voltage here, so any inadvertent lapses on my part almost certainly won’t kill me (or anyone else, more importantly).

              But we shouldn’t be put in these invidious positions simply because crapification.

              1. Steve H.

                That uncertainty is a serious stressor, isn’t it? It’s not just the removal of a positive reinforcement, it can go to negative reinforcement and for some, positive punishment.

                Rat lab experiments with a delay after a random shock showed that, given a choice, rats would zap themselves to avoid uncertainty and control the event. Punishment has perverse consequences.

                Crapification bites hard because of induced dependencies for the pursuit of happiness and tools of trade. The electricity allows greater capacity, but when it goes down it can be ruinous. The property that capital was able to leverage after the Civil War and the Great Depression has a modern corollary, in variations on debt servitude for those without the wealth of property.

                I’m an over-cooperator and want to rely on state solutions. But I keep getting drawn back to Boyd: “we imply that a basic aim or goal, as individuals, is to improve our capacity for independent action. The degree to which we cooperate, or compete, with others is driven by the need to satisfy this basic goal.”

                Crapification is not merely extractive. Crapification takes cooperation and turns it to chains.

                1. GF

                  A lot of residential generators now come with an automatic transfer switch that isolates the generator from the grid when the grid goes down without having to have any manual input.

          2. Bob

            Of course right is right and wrong is wrong. Of course even, less than desperate folks are inattentive, careless, or sloppy.
            And no one wants to injure a lineman or any other person.
            Risk does exist in anything whether it is in finance, electrical work, or walking down the street. What prudent folks strive to do is mitigate that risk.
            Is there a serious situation ?
            Of course there is.
            Is it the end of the world ? I doubt it.

            1. Clive

              I for one am grateful that you’ve appointed yourself as an error-proof and eternally infallible guardian of your own and others’ safety and rest assured in the knowledge that you’ll never make a mistake, even though there’s no independent verification of your actions or failsafes in place.

              Oh, and I see you’re already well aquatinted with my friend, the fallacy of relative privation?

              1. ambrit

                I suspect the subject is much more serious than the fallacy referred to.
                At bottom, this line of thinking is pure neo-liberalism, Libertarian Creed. Or, “I’m all right Jack,” as applied in the manner of the Alchemist’s Creed: “As Above, So Below.”
                When applying the “It’s a Dog eat Dog world,” ideology, most people neglect to consider just how many varieties of Dog there are.
                An anecdotal example of the foregoing; my Dad was forced out as a City Inspector in a mid-sized metropolis when he tried to apply the relevant building codes to a major political patron’s business enterprise.
                The bottom line? When it comes to simple survival, morality and ethics take a back seat.

          3. Jim Thomson

            I know several people in my Pacific Northwest neighborhood with generators who use extension cords when we have winter wind storms that knock out power for hours to days. And some of these are amateur radio guys with some knowledge of electricity.
            And the generators are fueled by gasoline, which will only last a few days at most.
            Transfer switches, yes, are required, but cost money.
            But most people don’t have any back up at all.

        2. upstater

          As Clive says, there is nothing to prevent a household from buying a 15 kw gasoline powered generator from Lowe’s or Home Depot and jury-rigging it into their main panel. I personally know of a professional firefighter that nearly poisoned his family with carbon monoxide buy running a portable generator in an open garage bay. I have also seen tie-ins to main panels DIY by engineers that did not have proper isolation from the grid, with only the main breaker being toggled.

          Diesel may be common for commercial backups or for home units in Europe, but in the US gasoline is be far most common. I believe homeowner use of such units will inevitably cause wildfires in California. Liability is off loaded.

          1. Dan

            “jury-rigging it into their main panel”?
            Lots of luck with that if you don’t know what you are doing.

            More likely one would just plug a long power cord directly into its three prong outlets. Hell of a lot safer too when power is restored.

            i.e. One from generator in backyard to the refrigerator and the other to the gas fueled furnace that needs power for the blower.
            Once it gets cold, we’ll see how well people have prepared.

            Have been buying heavy gauge power cords for years at garage sales. Not one is available in stores now. The technological tide is going out without power. Now we see who is naked.

            Anyone with a working generator should alert neighbors who may have critical medicine cold storage needs. Do this ahead of time. You might save lives.

            1. inode_buddha

              I’ve been using old-school kerosene. Works every time, heats the whole house, up here in upstate NY, and the energy density makes NatGas look stupid. No smoke, clean burning, like a portable fireplace. In 2 hrs you’ll be walking around in shorts and not much else.

              1. Janie

                Can you provide info on set-up, please. Kerosene lanterns are my sole exposure to this fuel; I’d like to learn more.

    2. Mark

      Of course these blackouts will also protect us from arson, sparks from chainsaws and farming equipment, fires started by autos, and cows knocking over lanterns.

    3. rjs

      i have a gasoline generator, as do most of my neighbors (rural eastern ohio), but don’t know of anyone who’s backed up by diesel…it’s not a whole house thing, but i can run everything i need to, including the oil furnace…i also have gasoline storage, as well as tend to keep the heat oil tank near full…

  3. inode_buddha

    Was gonna say, most commercial backup generators are diesel (large units over 100kW) $$$$$

    That’s not Joe Homeowner; Portable units are gasoline. Permanently-connected to the house units are either NatGas or LPG.

  4. inode_buddha

    So, what happens to Cali’s economy when the gas stations stop pumping because there’s no electricity? And the Grocery stores close down?

    I’ll bet the Feds step in after the rioting starts, alongside the Army Corps of Engineers. PG&E/SoCalEd isn’t going to survive in it’s current (pun) form.

    1. Bob

      I’m not so sure that the feds will step in.
      Remember in past natural disasters – think Porto Rico, certain areas of New Orleans after Katrina, some areas after Sandy, the Federal response has been tempered by politics. And what an opportunity to screw a Blue state this could be.

      1. notabanker

        A family member is studying criminal justice and recently attended a Fed seminar. Among the topics discussed was not if a SWAT tactical team was deployed, but WHICH tactical team was deployed from local, state and federal choices. Also was the zero budget restriction travel policy that allows any agency location to request additional fed help and get volunteers instantly.

        This isn’t a red / blue political issue, it is the foundation of capitalism and citizen uprising. It will be shutdown instantly, and it won’t be televised on CNN or Fox.

    2. tegnost

      call me a cynic, but it hurts small players the most and in the current world we live in it’s “lose money capitalism” where size protects you, and then you hoover up the dregs and viola’! increased market share. Bigger nowadays also means more deserving. It’s a passion play and the preferred denouement for pg+e is socialized losses, then reprivatization after the expensive stuff is done.

  5. dan

    Some of the numbers sound fishy. $20,000 a day for a generator for a small grocer?? You don’t need to run the whole store – just keep freezers and refrigs (periodically) running during an outage such as this. $2000 a day loss for a framing shop in Placerville? I would think that is closer to their weekly revenue.

    1. Bob

      The common method in past disasters has been for grocery stores to rent refrigerated trailers as a short term solution.
      Many chains have plans in place for just such an emergency. And remember the power outage does not yet disrupt the transportation sector.

    2. inode_buddha

      The grocery number seems a bit high. Anecdotally, my employer (large factory owner) lost all power a decade ago, due to a squirrel chewing through a main feeder and shorting out to the middle leg (three phase). The substation transformer burned up, costing well over a million, with a 6-month wait to get a new one. We normally use several thousand amperes at 480-volts, round the clock.

      He ended up renting a couple of very large diesel generators, basically locomotive engines mounted on trailers. Used 1200 gallons of Diesel per day, for 6 months. He said he still made money despite the cost. Our product is a very high-margin/value with crossover uses between military/industrial customers.

    3. Marlin

      If they have employees, that they can’t force to take holidays on short notice plus paying rent for the workshop etc. I can believe it. With a weekly revenue of $2000 there wouldn’t be a “shop”, that is owned, but a single person working from home. You can’t pay rent, input materials for the frames, and have other people employed for about $8000 a month. Certainly not in high-cost of living California.

      1. Fiery Hunt

        Certainly no employees but the rest….absolutely. and dan’s BS detector on the frame shop’s revenue is spot on.

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      That was in the WSJ story, so please take it up with them.

      I imagine the “one day” is pretty much always during emergencies and they can charge through the nose.

  6. Ignacio

    Why this doesn’t surprise me?
    When I was a PG&E user I was surprised to see how poorly designed was the low-voltage distribution net in the Bay Area.

  7. Larry

    I’m about to spend two weeks in San Francisco for work and am not excited about my hotel elevator perhaps not functioning. I suspect the financial district won’t be impacted, but it will be interesting to be plugged into more local news and general chit chat in offices.

    1. Dan

      Larry, forget the car, 36,000 auto burglaries in 2018 in S.F., stay off Bay Area Rapid Transit if you are nicely dressed at non-rush hour, you are a target.
      Bring a second pair of shoes in case you step in human feces, even in the most elegant shopping areas around Union Square. Situational awareness, don’t walk down the street on your phone, it’s an outdoor insane asylum.
      Police? Forget it. You are on your own. Only ride in taxicabs. Flywheel and Luxor are the best companies.

    1. Steve H.

      Have now, thank you, Rev Kev.

      A tangential note, my godson and I failed to meet deadline for our desalination project. However, we were focused on lens systems. He is now at Purdue, specializing in curved reflectors. He always did like the elegance of equations for curves.

  8. AstoriaBlowin

    Another example of why sprawl is not resilient, the more spread out your housing is the more transmission line you need and thus more points of failure. If the lines were all buried then it wouldn’t be such an issue. Also another cost of exclusionary single family zoning in coastal areas, it’s outright illegal or to regulatory burdensome to build multi-family in huge swathes of coastal California so all growth is in areas more vulnerable to fire.

    1. Synoia

      If the lines were all buried then it wouldn’t be such an issue.

      Lifetime for buried lines is 1/2 to 2/3 overhead, and 10x more cost.

      The solution is to get to work. Start repairing the lines, which would be a “new deal” type program.

      But, with the broken Government, in CA and the US, there us never “enough money” after paying for all our imperial wars.

      I always wondered why empires declined and fell – I never thought I’d experience it first hand.

    2. Michael

      Its population growth, poor planning by rent seeking PGE, lousy Governors and grandstanding politicians.
      Yes lets build more dense housing and lift the state population to 50 million!! WIN!!

      Where would you start burying?


      1. AstoriaBlowin

        The population density in or near major job centers in CA is really low, San Jose is 2,246 people per square kilometer for example. People who live in the state now need a place to live, there’s a housing crisis for existing residents, building housing in metropolitan areas will bring down prices and give people a place to live. But who cares about them right?

        Greater density means less infrastructure to build and maintain, you don’t need to run power and water out to every subdivision spread across hundreds of square kilometers to serve the same size population as a few blocks of a city.

    3. Dan

      On the other hand where would you rather be in a long power cutoff?
      In a single family home surrounded by neighbors you know, with food and water stored and a garden, walkable, bikeable streets,
      in a highrise with twenty flights of stairs to go up and down, no water, no storage and roaming mobs looking to rob you on the street?

      1. AstoriaBlowin

        In the vast majority of single family neighborhoods, I would venture that there is nothing walkable or bikeable about them, there’s no sidewalks and services are quite far by foot. And no one said a thing about highrises, Parisian density is 21,616 per square kilometer with no high rises, San Jose is ~2000 per square kilometer for comparison sake. You can increase density with townhouses or 4-6 story apartments that make service and infrastructure provision vastly cheaper and more efficient. You can even think about stuff like burying powerlines because you don’t have the same mileage to worry about as with dispersed single family communities.

        And roaming mobs is a bit of a dogwhistle, where were the roaming mobs in the 2003 northeast blackout, or after Hurricane Sandy?

        1. Dan

          Sounds like you are stuck back east somewhere. In California we have suburbs with sidewalks, bike paths, community gardens etc. We are doing just fine without human hive building, although the state politicians in the pockets of the developers have passed laws encouraging and enabling that around new transit, which is a land development scheme.

          Mobs don’t usually roam with two feet of water in the street and roaring winds.

          Here’s a counter example to your 2003:

          “All across Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, more than 1,000 fires were set — 60 of them major. Nearly 2,000 properties were vandalized, two people died and 436 police officers were injured, a government study says.”For the looters, vandals and arsonists, it was Christmas in July, a fiesta, a carnival, a holiday,” Milton Lewis with CNN affiliate KABC said.

          Then the lights went out, and in Bushwick, the “Battle of Broadway’’ began. On a three-mile stretch of the major thoroughfare that divides Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant, fires, looting and rioting erupted just minutes after the power fizzled.

          “Opportunistic thieves grabbed whatever they could get their hands on, from luxury cars to sink stoppers and clothespins, according to the New York Post. The sweltering streets became a battleground, where, per the Post, “even the looters were being mugged.”

        2. kareninca

          The traffic here in Silicon Valley is already horrific. It gets much worse every year. If they increase the housing density, it will be impossible. I’ve seen fire trucks unable to move on El Camino Real because of traffic. If there is some way to increase housing density without increasing traffic so much, that would be great, but I haven’t ever seen that happen here.

      2. Lambert Strether

        > in a highrise with twenty flights of stairs to go up and down, no water, no storage and roaming mobs looking to rob you on the street?

        This is a picture, but not reality, at least for “natural disasters”*. Rebecca Solnit, before she lost her mind, wrote an excellent book in 2010, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster which includes a great discussion of the San Francisco Earthquake. IIRC, it was our idiotic military that caused the fires, not rampaging mobs. I believe Hurricane Sandy was the same sort of “extraordinary community.”

        Now, that’s not the same as a permanent denial of power, Mad Max-style, or a legitimacy crisis. But a natural disaster, in and of itself, does not create “roaming mobs looking to rob you on the street.” I was in Montreal during the ice storm of 1998, when the entire city had no power for a week. Nothing remotely like that happened. There wasn’t even price gouging.

        * What’s natural about them?

    1. heresy101

      Actually, it is the City of San Jose.

      Other entities wanting to take over PG&E’s assets are:
      1. City of San Francisco
      2. South San Joaquin Irrigation District (been trying for 15! years)
      3. City of Rocklin
      4. Valley Clean Energy CCA.
      (Cities of Davis and Woodland next to SMUD)
      5. Pioneer Clean Energy CCA in Sierra Foothills
      6. Others?? CCA’s of Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, Sonoma (where
      the latest fire is burning.

    2. notabanker

      Only the Federal Government, with the ability to print money, can take it over. Anything else will be a disaster for taxpayers. It will make Greek austerity look like a luxury vacation.

      1. Rudolph

        I disagree with this comment. Where I live, electricity is provided through a co-op. Others in the area, supplied by a for profit utility have energy cost 10 to 12% higher. Also, customer service is far better than the for-profit utility.
        By the way, when I was living in the bay area in the 60s we were so disgusted with PG&E that we wrote out our checks to Pacific Graft and extortion. PG&E always cashed the checks

  9. McWatt

    Does anyone know if California opened up their electrical system to “competition” where third party “electric suppliers” step in between the consumer and the electric company to rake off a percentage of the gross denying the electric company more of the gross revenue?

    1. Lee

      California electricity crisis (Wikipedia)

      The California electricity crisis, also known as the Western U.S. energy crisis of 2000 and 2001, was a situation in which the U.S. state of California had a shortage of electricity supply caused by market manipulations and capped retail electricity prices.[5] The state suffered from multiple large-scale blackouts, one of the state’s largest energy companies collapsed, and the economic fall-out greatly harmed Governor Gray Davis’ standing.

      1. heresy101

        This quote is from Patrick Wood’s website. His “About us” verifies his right wing nut-job status:

        “Wood remains a leading expert on the elitist Trilateral Commission, their policies and achievements in creating their self-proclaimed “New International Economic Order” which is the essence of Sustainable Development on a global scale.”

        “An economist by education, a financial analyst and writer by profession and an American Constitutionalist by choice, Wood maintains a Biblical world view and has deep historical insights into the modern attacks on sovereignty, property rights and personal freedom. Such attacks are epitomized by the implementation of U.N. policies such as Agenda 21, Sustainable Development, Smart Growth and in education, the widespread adoption of Common Core State Standards.”

        Marin Clean Energy and the 15 other community choice aggregation entities are charged under state law with buying energy and moving to 100% GHG neutral electricity supply.

        What needs to happen is for PG&E’s assets to be seized or purchased and give to the CCA’s with are much like the multi-award winning Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

        1. Dan

          Wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph.

          As to Marin Clean Energy:
          Bad messengers don’t change the reported facts.

          Here’s a different in depth analysis of MCE:

          “The clean energy agency sells dirty power to consumers that it rebrands as “clean,” while adding more than 1.2 billion pounds of greenhouse gas (GHG) to the atmosphere, since inception, that has not been disclosed by MCE to its customers.”

          “Nor are MCE’s shortcomings disclosed by Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) salespeople to communities thinking about joining or forming CCA. Salespeople cite MCE as a “clean energy” success while neglecting to disclose that all municipalities face very real financial risks that are not covered by the so-called financial firewall….PG&E, SMUD, Southern California Edison, LADWP, and SDG&E also provide public benefits programs, which are predominantly driven by State and Federal policy, and paid for by taxpayers and ratepayers.

          “Citing these programs does not deflect attention from MCE’s broken commitment of paying its ratepayers’ PG&E exit fees. The $118 million that MCE plans to bank belongs to MCE ratepayers in the form of your commitment to pay all MCE customers’ exit fees levied by PG&E; MCE essentially strips this money from hardworking ratepayers who believed your commitment.”

          “MCE banks $118 million while also using CalCCA to lobby for the continued practice of delivering inexpensive “clean” energy that is only paper certificates (RECs) + fossil power.”

  10. T

    Fans of a purely popular vote might want to consider how a blackout could affect turnout, number of polls open, and everything.

  11. jrs

    Meanwhile in CA: the homeless have just set the ciy on fire. In the midst of all the fires in California caused by dry and hot conditions (climate change ultimately), a huge fire in the San Fernando Valley in L.A. has been attributed to some of the 100s of homeless people that live in a public park around here who make fires to cook etc. Possibilities of evacuations (that luckily didn’t happen), thousands completely blocked due to shut down streets etc..

  12. elkern

    Thousands of small flame-powered generators installed by amateurs in remote dry areas is an arsonists wet-dream.

    I’m with David From Santa Cruz: this is a replay of the Enron torpedo job on Grey Davis. (PS: Go Banana Slugs!)

  13. John Saari

    The PGE blackouts mainly impacted rural and hilly areas so major cities mostly exempted. I live in Sonoma county and there were a lot of power interruptions and more planned. PGE publishes maps of the planned outages. They show (no surprise here) a poorly designed grid that does not isolate obvious obvious fire danger areas so the blackouts could be more limited. An example is the Plaza area of the city of Sonoma which has been subject to several outages where there is little danger of winds and with adjacent areas of the city with power.

    Finally despite the outages there is currently a wildfire in Sonoma county. and a report of a failed PGE transmission tower that coincided with the location and start of the fire.

    Have solar looking for batteries.

    1. JBird4049

      PG&E does not want to limit the blackouts more because increasing the pain of the politically impotent. You know them as poor people, now adding the middle class. It is a great way to get the detracting Newsom hatred going and I assume (although I have no direct knowledge of this) protect the wealthy and connected.

  14. Off The Street

    Insulin and other medications requiring refrigeration are serious or even life-threatening impacts for many people. One effect of the power supply outages has been for increased ice purchases to keep said meds cool until the next replenishment. If there is a long enough outage, that ice supply becomes much more of a challenge. Combine that with, say, gas station inventory depletion and you have some increased risk of mortality. Add in the fire danger and forced evacuation and you have some troubles, as friends are experiencing now.

    Not everyone has a broad or deep social safety net that would look in on that person living quietly in a less-traveled or under-served area.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > Insulin and other medications requiring refrigeration are serious or even life-threatening impacts for many people.

      Insulin, says the Google, needs to be stored between 36-46°F. I was hoping storing it in the earth as deep as well would be cool enough at the upper end, but apparently not?

      1. Gaianne


        You live far enough north that you might get away with it. I am remembering temperate-latitude estimates in the 45 F range. The farther north you are, the better. The deeper you dig, the cooler, until it reverses–but that is deep indeed, and only mining companies have to worry about that.

        To experiment, start measuring temperatures in the bottom of wells that have already been drilled.


  15. Renee

    My cousin lives in Santa Rosa and has had two outages now. The one this week showed a learning curve – lots of loud generators in her neighborhood – pretty sure those weren’t installed by electricians.

    Her friend in Geyserville came to stay after evacuation there even with the prospect of no power.

    The hardest hit are hourly employees in this high rent area.

    The recall folks seem to be in the valleys – saw some a couple of weeks ago at an event in Dixon.

    1. JBird4049

      Santa Rosa has a lot of retirement homes, independent seniors, the poor, and disabled, people who often need electrical power for cpap, wheelchairs and other devices. Since housing is, for the Bay Area, cheap and it is relatively close, or one to three hours depending, to San Francisco and other large cities, that is where the vulnerable move to.

      1. Ana

        I second this, living in Sacramento which is about the same travel time to SF as Santa Rosa and likewise has retirement homes, seniors, the poor, the disabled and a shrinking middle class. In addition, we have areas that have been given over to the homeless for tent cities such as the parkland along the Sacramento and American rivers, some parts of downtown and outlying poorer suburbs. Fires often start in the camps and spread to nearby homes and businesses. In my past life, I was a civil rights attorney now elderly and disabled – dependent on electrical equipment such as a power wheelchair, cpap, and a functional elevator in my senior housing building of 12 stories. Thankfully Sacramento is served by SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District), owned by the people of Sacramento which can, in extremis, disconnect from the grid and run on the output of Folsom Dam.

  16. Dan

    Yves, Thank you for your merciless and continuing coverage of this crisis which may end up having lasting economic and political ramifications and will not soon be forgotten.

    The Public Utilities Commission has a lot to do with this mismanagement, as they allowed it. Many are political appointees of the ex-governor Jerry Brown.

    viz, “Karen Clopton, the former chief administrative law judge at California’s powerful utility regulator said Tuesday she was fired for cooperating with investigators looking into collusion between regulators and executives from Pacific Gas & Electric.”

    How about a giant class action lawsuit against PG&E?

    They’re broke? Get in line with the creditors?
    Individual damages to business and food could simply be subtracted from present and future utility bills. Or, perhaps the state could set up an escrow account to which ratepayers would forward their payments?

    What are the odds that PG&E would have the manpower to go out and shut off utilities to recalcitrant payers? Oops! People allowed them to install ‘smart meters’ on their houses and businesses, so they can shut you off remotely. How much you want to bet that they start doing this selectively to
    A. Those that don’t front load their bills at a higher competitive temporary emergency KWH rate?
    B. Non critical providers of services,i.e. homeowners..

    “Sewage ejector” is the term. They pump the sewage up to where it can flow by gravity to the mains. “electrical septic tanks” is a misnomer. Septic tanks leach into the soil.

  17. rd

    The ASCE Infrastructure Report Card has Energy at D+:

    We are observing what a D+ grade looks like. Supposedly first world parts of the country can suddenly have the lights go out for an extended period of time with little notice. Historically, this was a hallmark of third world countries where you simply had to be prepared for an unreliable power supply. Now we can have that in one of the most expensive areas on the planet to live. It happens in many parts of the country, for different reasons. It can generally be traced back to poor planning, maintenance, and upgrades.

    This is American exceptionalism at work. It is assumed that we are the best, so little investment needs to be made to keep us the best.

  18. Whoamolly

    Notes from fire-risk blackout area in Northern California. PGE tells us our neighborhood will be without power Saturday night through Monday afternoon.

    – Yves article is on point on all aspects.
    – Governor Newsom increasingly comes across as an ineffective lightweight who is in over his head.
    – The local Tractor Supply store just stacked three pallets of small, $500 2KW gasoline powered generators next to the entry door. They are also selling flat extension cords that are designed to lay flat on the floor, and go under a door.
    – I am pessimistic about cheap gasoline powered generators. Small gasoline engines do not do well when standing unused for long periods of time. They need periodic operation to run well. If I did buy a generator I would not consider anything other than a small Honda. They have the best reputation for reliability and are low noise.
    – Modern gasoline has so many chemicals in it, that it does not do well when sitting for long periods of time.
    – I use a CPAP. The local hospital supply store recommends a specially designed lithium ion battery for CPAP backup. It runs CPAP for about 14 hours. The battery has USB connection for charging phones. I chose this option for my overnight CPAP because the battery is also designed to work as a UPS. It kicks in automatically in the middle of the night when I’m sleeping.
    – The larger of the local gas stations will have power throughout the power shut down. The larger of the local grocery stores will have power throughout the shut down.

    1. Dan

      Saturday Afternoon at 1:30 is the cut off time.
      A few reminders:

      Gas stations have long lines already. Gas up ASAP.
      Fill coolers with ice now. Icemaker will keep making more until Saturday.
      Place as many jars of water in refrigerator as will fit now. Raid nearby recycling bins if you have none. Lower the temperature of the refrigerator to 33 degrees, this will add chilled mass to keep other contents cool longer.
      Turn freezer down lower.
      Get stuff out of fridge that doesn’t require refrigeration, like eggs.
      Eat stuff that does today. Go ahead, any excuse to pig out on ice cream.

      The landline always works unless lines are damaged. The electric base station is useless. An old phone that plugs directly into wall jack that you should have bought at the last garage sale would come in real handy.

      Your gas stove may not work without electrical spark. It’s unbelievable how many of our neighbors have no matches or candles.

      Charge all laptops, cell phones and hook your modem/router to a universal power source battery. You might still have internet service until the battery runs down.

      Treat this as a learning experience and partial preparation for The Big One.

      1. inode_buddha

        All a good reason to invest in a power inverter to get some 110 from a vehicle’s battery. Nasty dirty 110, but it will work for most uses. Make sure the vehicle is running while using the inverter so as not to drain the battery flat, then you’re really screwed.

        Laptops, tablets, and phones can all be charged off the lighter jack in the usual slow way.

    2. Lambert Strether

      > Small gasoline engines do not do well when standing unused for long periods of time.

      > Modern gasoline has so many chemicals in it, that it does not do well when sitting for long periods of time

      “Our” optimized, i.e. crapified supply chain is going to be the death of us all.

  19. RickV

    According to news reports the Kincade Fire, in Northern California, started after a high voltage power line was toppled. Again according to the reports the wind speed was high enough to shut off lower voltage lines per PG&E policy, but not the high voltage lines. If high voltage lines are now cut off, in medium wind events, I’m guessing, the entire state could see power shut offs. This could get much worse.

    1. JBird4049

      The whole state from the wet Redwood forests of the northwest to the Sierras down to the Baja have always had dry periods, hot weather, high winds, and even some real storms. Somehow, right now, the whole state is going to have these power outages because why? What makes today that requires such massive outages compared to the last drought? Perhaps the beginnings of increased blackouts because, yes, of the poor state of the infrastructure, which cannot be denied, but the size and length of them? I smell something and it ain’t a rat.

    1. Skip Intro

      It is useful to blame the climate crisis for disruptions people feel, and the ‘enhanced’ fire seasons certainly are a result, but the main problem, lack of maintenance and investment, arises from good-old neoliberal capitalism corruption.

  20. smoker

    Yet another devastating argument against so many local brick and mortar stores shutting down due to Amazon, which always carried emergency supplies, basic needs, and tools; and so much infrastructure rapidly being deserted and rotting, e.g. landlines, phone booths, and Highway callboxes.

    Also a devastating argument against the utterly insane push for demonetization.

    Just generally, as much as possible there should be a manual mode in place for anything heavily relied upon, that wisdom seems to have been utterly obliterated in the last two decades.

    1. Dan

      “a devastating argument against the utterly insane push for demonetization”

      “Yes, we have food and not much bottled water left, cash only.”

      “Do you take Apple Pay? If not I have an old debit card, I think it still works. My partner has all the major credit cards if that’s a problem.”

      Sorry, CASH ONLY…”

      “My kids are really hungry, you’re the only store that’s open!”

      “Sorry, CASH ONLY, Next customer.”

      “This is hella topped. Ohoh-ohoh, Where’s the reset button!!”

      1. smoker

        I should have added also: a devastating argument against using technology to utterly replace one’s memory. It’s horrifying how many people don’t know their loved ones’ phone numbers by heart – so can’t access them if their cellphone battery is dead.

        Perhaps hardcopy address/phone books will make a comeback after all of the recent extreme setbacks and catastrophes across the US and its punished ‘territories.’ People actually memorized phone numbers quickly, as they had to dial the numbers one by one, repeatedly. And they knew physical addresses of loved ones because they wrote letters, and sent cards.

        Oh, and then there are hardcopy maps that might make a comeback. I swear way too many people don’t seem to know what “what are the closest cross streets” means anymore, and many of those who know what it means still don’t remember what those cross streets are, no matter how many times they pass them daily on the way to their destination point.

  21. Jeremy Grimm

    I have read that some of the high voltage transformers in the GRID backbone are no longer made in this country. Also some of these transformers must be ordered a year and often more ahead of time because of the long lead times for getting them built and shipped. If PG&E has not done well in maintaining their portions of GRID — how deep is their inventory of spares, especially spares for some of these expensive, long-lead high voltage transformers?

    Getting by without power for a few days is ‘difficult’. What about getting by without power for a month without any clear idea when the power might come back? How does Puerto Rico manage? How would Los Angeles get through a month without the GRID?

    1. Clive

      Yes. A hugely important point. High voltage transmission transformers appeared on the US Critical Overseas Dependencies list (e.g. see Korea Hitachi Large Electric Power Transformers 230 – 500 kV Busan Port).

      Most are custom builds to customer-specific designs. With highly specialised fabrication and materials requirements.

      Lead times six months to a year or more.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Thank you for that reference! I was not aware of this list. It is most helpful. It appears to have come out around the same time the Senate Armed Services Committee started looking into the dependencies in the US DoD logistics chains and the problems with counterfeit components and subsystems.

          1. Jeremy Grimm

            The physical scale of some of the real equipment in that clip make some movie CGI special effects seem small.

  22. Jeremy Grimm

    If the program allows — perhaps the local police departments might want to use some of their 1033 program monies for surplus military equipment to pick up a few surplus military power generators, and water purification vehicles, and maybe a few vehicles to deliver diesel fuel. Maybe the Homeland Security people might create a program to assure that a chain of diesel stations on the main cross-country trucking routes have back-up power generators and a few hand or bicycle gear driven pumps to move diesel from their tanks to the tanks of the trucks maintaining the just-in-time supplies of medicines, food, and other critical items.

  23. lyman alpha blob

    This is ludicrous. If there needed to be a poster child for why essential industries such as power generation ought to be really publicly owned, PG&E is it.

    I don’t think anyone would or even could hold PG&E liable for wildfire damage if they had done their job properly and the fires were truly an act of god. My understanding is the reason they have been is because they couldn’t be bothered to do the routine maintenance that would have prevented prevent fires in the first place, pocketing the cash instead.

    Since he couldn’t gain any traction after blackouts in Venezuela, perhaps PG&E can have Senor Guy Doe step in as CA governor instead after they oust Newson…

    Or we could do the right thing and nationalize it.

  24. inode_buddha

    One thing that occurs to me in all of this is, when your entire life depends on being part of a densely populated civilization…. what happens to that dense population when civilization collapses? Such as food, electricity, water, transportation…

    I’ve long believed that there actually is enough on this planet for everyone, but *not* under our current management. It’s a distribution problem based in the fact that nobody gives a damn about each other. I’ve long believed that if you can’t grow your own food, get your own water, and get heat from some form of fire, then you are not self sufficient.

    Try cutting off all food and water and electric to some place like NYC for a week and see how long they last. Don’t tell me I’m preaching, I just went most of the summer without utils, and I’m doing OK.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I share your concern about the resilience of densely populated areas. Distribution and provisioning has always been a greater concern than the abstract adequacy of supply. However, although we have sufficient food and water in the moment, the stores of food are not deep, rains and snows have changed but the reservoirs are the same, and the world population continues to grow as the supplies of food and water are impacted by Climate Chaos and rampant stupidity. The world lives on the edge, and moves closer to the edge with each passing year. “Our current management” gives us words, and hopes to be retired living somewhere else, leaving matters in other hands when the bills come due.

    2. anon y'mouse

      this is why i am concerned that the current “green new deals” seem to be focused heavily on full-electrification-of-everything.

      i know someone who is living semi-rural, whose power goes out on the regular in storms and winds, and unfortunately the entire house was built using electrical–heat, hot water, stoves, and water well pumps.

      they have a backup generator for the pumps, and luckily a wood furnace inside for heat. but nothing for hot water, and cooking will likely be done on a bbq grill outside. they also have fireplaces which are newer and thus efficient (more like woodstoves) but they have fan blowers in them and so would not help at all in a power outage (hence the furnace).

      my plan on retrofitting this place for livability will either require some kind of heat pump/chiller, and/or solar hot water and radiant heat install with a superinsulated hot water storage tank. or…geothermal. but you still need pumps, so i guess that is back to the generator!

      disaster-readiness, and just simply readiness for all of the variabilities in future conditions seems to make us need 5 different versions of the same system, based upon what might go out and what might be available, and what kinds of environmental conditions need to be faced at the moment.

      and yes, people in CA outside of Eureka/Tahoe areas are at least not going to be freezing to death. unlike my associate in the all-electric house if she can’t reach the woodpile!

  25. kareninca

    Wildfires cause very bad air, even far from the fire. If the power is shut off, you can’t run your air filter (s) so that you can breathe your indoor air, which gets bad surprisingly quickly. We are in the Palo Alto area; the air is getting worse here now due to the wildfires north of us (nothing like in earlier years yet). If the power goes out, we’ll be breathing it. Actually we can wear masks; I’m worried about our dog. And I’m worried about half of my neighbors; smokey air is not good for elderly people

      1. kareninca

        Wow. That looks very impressive. I think we would be okay with N95 masks (and I am going to get enough for neighbors, too), but I know someone who lives part of the year in the fire zone. She needs to have the ievac ones for her family. Thank you.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, I’d definitely get one if I were in a fire area. They are super pricey but if you think you might be in serious smoke, it’s worth the cost.

          1. skippy

            That might be OK for only atmospheric inhalation but if exposed to any temperature issues would result in your head as a mold, don’t trust the heat claims till I could verify myself. The term ‘escape’ hood denotes a limited exposure based on early notice.

            This is what I use at work a Scott Safety Promask Full Face Respirator – Single Filter


            The issue is not just the fire burning vegetation but the houses and their contents, same stuff for floods.

          2. witters

            If it is “worth the cost” for the private consumer, then perhaps, for those without the means to meet “the cost,” there might be something like a government based universal health supply centre. (Bernie?)

      2. Whoamolly

        Cost is a lot less than even one day in the hospital.

        Good recommendation.

        We have the N95 masks.

  26. Fern

    Regarding Facebook: Democrats have been conflating the privacy issue with the censorship issue. This is a big problem.

    Sure, Facebook tramples on peoples’ privacy and this is an issue that should be addressed. But I agree with Zuckerberg when it comes to censorship. If we start imposing censorship, it’s the powerful who will be the arbiters of truth, and the left will be among the first victims.

    Warren and the Democrats are demanding that Facebook use fact-checkers. As you can see from the link below, one of the “fact-checkers” is the Atlantic Council! That’s predictable; that’s what will happen if we get the censorship that so many are demanding.

    Elizabeth Warren’s aggressive Facebook campaign against an ad about Biden was a particularly horrific example. The ad that Warren and the DNC had singled out for censorship said:

    “Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company”.

    All but the most partisan outlets would publish a political ad of this level of accuracy, because there’s nothing demonstrably false about it. It’s just an example of one powerful elite trying to impose their view of reality on another powerful elite.

    I still find Facebook to be about the only way that I can introduce progressive ideas and articles to my circle of acquaintances. And I find Twitter to be among the most useful sources of good links. We should be fighting censorship, yet I find that the vast majority of my Facebook acquaintances seem to have an unshakable belief that censorship will weed out ideas they don’t like and promote ideas they do like.

  27. howseth

    Santa Cruz here. I’m in one of two identical ‘loft’ apartment buildings, and our twin building – no more than fifty feet North from us – has been warned their power may be turned off tomorrow (and the day after too) due to dry conditions and high winds forecast.

    Our building has not been warned – in fact – they do not plan to shut our power. Why? We are on two separate power grids – the other building extends further North into more trees – our building’s grid extends to the South and downtown. This is my guess, anyway. People are confused.

    Last year during the fire season we were hit with some intense smoke from some fires in our region, both close and farther – our power was left on, so we shut the door of our bedroom – and used our air cleaner to ride it out. If our power had been shut off in a similar scenario – that could be quite unhealthy

    Meanwhile, in our neighborhood there are homeless people scattered around in the woods – last year some fires were accidentally set off by this ‘camping’. PG&E’s failures and now power outages just adds to the mix of hazards.

    Would a state takeover of the utilities be any better? Looks like we are going to need to pay more to improve our power grid… and why are we paying double the gasoline tax than Texas? Where is all that extra $$ going? Can’t some of that lucre be used to improve our energy grids?

    1. howseth

      Saturday evening. PG&E did do what they warned they would – all the power has been shut off from a few feet North of our building. It’s all dark.

      We are waiting for the high winds to come. It is not windy now. Tomorrow wind is forecast to be 10-20 mph. Not exactly a gale. I see flashlights peeking out from the transients camping out in the woods below the cemetery across the river.

  28. Kevin

    Anyone know why Newsom doesn’t declare a State of Emergency and start taking over management of the crises? PG&E cannot resolve the dilemma of serving Shareholders and serving citizens, for the two requirements are at odds with each other where it counts. Their product is not merely a commercial commodity, it is a necessity of survival, therefore it cannot be managed during a crises as a convenience. We have been dealing with outages in the foothills and not enough wind to snuff a candle, both the last one, and the one before. This is a considerable hardship for most of us, not merely an inconvenience. It is not sustainable.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If a rising young governor wannabe decided to primary Newsom before your next election on the basis of Emergency Take-Overing the PG&E, would enough Californian primary voters vote for that nominee-wannabe to where he/she could defeat and remove Newsom from the next ballot?

      1. Fubar N Wass

        Any proposal for State of California taking over the utilities will run into the “then they will be run like the DMV” rebuttal argument.

        1. JBird4049

          Well, if the state government bothered to adequately fund, staff, and equip the DMV it wouldn’t be so bad. Of course, the yearly registration fees are really high, but they never seem to use them on the DMV.

    2. Lambert Strether

      > Anyone know why Newsom doesn’t declare a State of Emergency and start taking over management of the crises?

      That would imply that liberal Democrats want to govern.

      1. JBird4049

        I am sitting here in my car recharging my cellphone because these mysterious winds that PG&E is saying *might* cause a fire. Somehow. I drove around and I’d guess that most of the North Bay is from the north end of Gate to somewhere in Santa Rosa. It’s hard to drive around on highway in the dark using only everyone’s headlights. So who knows as the official outage map doesn’t completely match mine eyes. So north of 400,000 people perhaps. But I could easily be completely off in either direction. But the most heavily populated parts of Marin all look dark and PG&E has blacked out parts of Santa Rosa. It ain’t NYC or even San Francisco, but it’s not Lodi either.

        Fuck them all. I really mean this. We need completely new political parties for both the left and the right. Leftist, liberals, conservatives all need a party that represents them and not whatever asinine excuse of an “ideology” that is really just a cover for the looting of the whole country.

        If the California Democratic Party refuses to govern and the California Republican Party wants to remain demented, we need some new parties. If anyone says anything about LGBTQ+ rights in *California* or how we should allow more immigrants in, or the flipping Ukrainians, or even the guns again, I just might lose it.

        I am sitting in the dark because some people thought it would be okay to take my payments and put it into their paychecks, bonuses, and dividends. The city of my birth has like 2% of its population living in the streets. The majority of the people who are homeless are Californian who have lived here most, or all of their lives. And when I have to go back, hello mess! The decay seems to happening statewide with only the degree of the rot different.

        You know, I constantly struggle to survive and somehow, someway get through college. I sometimes wonder just what am I doing this. Well, tonight I got some extra incentive, some extra motivation. To survive long enough to fix things as the people who will be living in the future deserve to have a decent, functional, democratic society. I want my state to function like it used to. It really did. Not perfectly of course, but it worked.

        We can argue all day long about just what we really want in a society, but in with tens of thousands of Americans homeless, the deliberate, and I do mean deliberate, destruction of something like one third of an entire state’s population electrical supplies, the ever worsening of the educational system, and all the others stuff I could rant on, we got some serious stuff to fix. Talking about everything else like LGBQ+ rights, or guns, or the supposedly massive wave of immigrants, or how the terrorists, gun crazies, the Deplorables, ISIS, or somebody is out to kill us all, is one gigantic misdirection.

        All crime is less than it was, the kids are safer than they have ever been, air travel, despite the TSA clowns and Boeing, is safer than ever. If we stopped bombing weddings and apartments most of the people, who want to kill American soldiers, would not want to anymore.

        Yet, and yet, the more corrupt and dysfunctional American infrastructure, government, and civil society becomes, the more we are taught to fear and hate especially other Americans who are somehow bad people. Even evil people. Just ignore the corruption but fear the Liberal Idpol LGBQ+ out to get your children or the gun lovers who hate them gays and want to bring back the Klan. WTF?

        And here I am, just sitting in the dark. Joy. Hating was become of my country. We used to create, to do, even dream, and now we destroy, consume, and have nightmares.

        1. smoker

          Fuck them all. I really mean this. We need completely new political parties for both the left and the right. Leftist, liberals, conservatives all need a party that represents them and not whatever asinine excuse of an “ideology” that is really just a cover for the looting of the whole country.

          If the California Democratic Party refuses to govern and the California Republican Party wants to remain demented, we need some new parties. If anyone says anything about LGBTQ+ rights in *California* or how we should allow more immigrants in, or the flipping Ukrainians, or even the guns again, I just might lose it.


          The majority of the people who are homeless are Californian who have lived here most, or all of their lives.

          yep. And many of the homeless were highly educated in: the most humane; wise; knowledgeable; intelligent and meaningful sense of that very tricky word. They were not amongst the current multitude of Educated Fools (and far worse) who are aiding and abetting a catastrophe of epic proportions, the brutal culling of those who refuse to eat their own inexplicably sinking family members and local neighbors, in order to survive.

  29. washparkhorn

    The outages are regressive in effect, which in today’s efficiency-dominated business culture means they are regressive by design. This is the world of the Pete Buttigieg character. (I have faith the real man playing himself understands how neoliberal economics punches down on the powerless.) There are thousands in my little corner of California who did not expect or prepare for these outages. Rural California is hit hardest. California has some spectacular infrastructure. But it is concentrated on the Pacific Coast. Sacramento’s infrastructure pales in comparison to the Greater Bay Area and the mighty Southern California metropolitan area, which is a temple to transportation. Compared to those dominating population centers, the vast majority of California is rural, with dots of towns and cities that resemble the Great Plains rather than Santa Monica.

    California is enormous, but most of it is uncrowded, like a trip through Iowa with the Front Range of Colorado thrown in. Those living on the edges of the Greater Bay Area and the Southern California metropolitan area suffer the same fate as rural Californians.The State and its citizens are ill prepared and, in some cases, unable to prepare, for long periods of time without electricity.

    The wealthy of California appear to be sleepwalking through it all, despite people suffering nearby. It was an easy choice in this age of consultants and alumni of consulting firms. The wealthy wield power harshly when inconvenienced. While the burden is greater for those with less, they pose no real threat to the power structure and can be put upon to carry that burden. Efficiency principles will then be applied to give it that seal of approval from a consultant firm – similar to the role of ratings firms in the lead up to the 2008 recession. Efficiency has become the great excuse for decisions that adversely impact populations in the United States. It is a brutal tool of profit that dehumanizes humans in their role as workers. The implications for AI are harrowing.

    The uncaring by those who sleepwalk through life is what confuses me. Some have lost any reason to care, despite the perils in maintaining the unsustainable status quo, let alone the cruelty of it to those most vulnerable. We, as a society, are rudderless thanks to neoliberal wishful thinking. Leaders have not risen to the top. Instead we have heartless efficiency experts in control – and filling their coffers up with cold hard dollars.

  30. Lambert Strether

    So a bunch of poor, sick, and old people go down, another retail apocalypse hits small business, and rural areas continue to be hollowed out.*

    Everything’s going according to plan!

    NOTE * And the only options available to individual rational actors make the collective worse off. It’s GENIUS!

  31. Eclair

    Southwest New York and northwest Pennsylvania are unlikely candidates for power shutoffs due to fire threat. Not when you need wellies all year when woodswalking. But, in the events of power outages, regard our many Amish neighbors.

    Centuries of resistance against the dominant culture have left them with the social and technological structures that will enable them to survive a mere power outage. They farm, they preserve their food, they cook and heat with wood and small kerosene stoves. They use old time washing machines. Their workshops are powered by generators. They ride about on horses and buggies and farm wagons. They hunt and fish for food.
    Their governing groups are about 20 families and the meet together ever other Sunday. All day. They eat and communicate and strengthen social bonds. There is, I swear, a very efficient Amish telegraph that links together communities in New York and Kentucky and Colorado.

    My Amish neighbors are my backup. It’s why I maintain a big plus on my side of the social account that exists in so many rural communities. That and they are good people who find joy and fun in the simple and important things in life.

    1. inode_buddha

      I’m not Amish, but I am from WNY and my upbringing was similar. The examples you mentioned are one of many reasons why I’m very skeptical of modern urban life.

  32. David in Santa Cruz

    What’s interesting is that unlike the impassioned commenters above, the major California media outlets aren’t publishing op-ed’s demanding a public take-over, or calling-out the $2-3 Million “signing bonus” of the new CEO, or the $8 Million annual compensation of the last mediocrity of a CEO, or the history of the give-away and looting of a subsidized and formerly well-regulated public utility by Chicago School theocrats, or the inert PUC that Former-Governor Jerry Brown created in exchange for millions in political contributions.

    Instead, they buy into PG&E’s “who-coulda-node” Climate-Change shrug. “It’s Chinatown, Jake…”

    Newsom is quite evidently looking back at the 2003 Gray Davis recall and is frozen like a deer in the headlights. Everything is going according to plan. All your base are belong to us!

    1. JBird4049

      Hey, he wanted the job. He gets the perks and the pain. If he handles the crises well, he could become the President, and if not, then he gets to slink off to his winery.

      1. smoker

        Yep; I pray slinking back to his winery. Odd, it certainly doesn’t appear that Newsom – despite currently pretending (outside of possibly effecting his winery business) he’s always held PG&E in contempt for its criminality and greed, – ever gave back that maximum campaign contribution which, then Felon, PG&E donated to his 2018 campaign. From July, 2019:


        Newsom and his allies took $208,400 toward his 2018 run for governor after PG&E was convicted. That includes the maximum contribution of $58,400 directly to his campaign and another $150,000 to a political spending group called “Citizens Supporting Gavin Newsom for Governor 2018.”

        “It’s a strange question,” Newsom told ABC10 when asked why it’s OK for him to take money from a convicted felon. “I don’t know what more I can say.”

        That was his only reply to the substance of the question

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