Electric Utilities Key To Wildfire Protection? / by Norris McDonald

Electric utilities in California want ratepayers to pay for lines destroyed by wildfires but do not appear to be in a hurry to share their transmission and distribution line maps.  We think a nice compromise might be to share those maps in exchange for ratepayer support for line replacement and a utility-led wildfire prevention program that would use firebreaks because they already have the right-of-ways.  State legislation would still be needed to expand cutting in these utility line right-of-ways (we need about a one-mile firebreak in wildfire areas.  Professionals in the wildfire area could work with utilities to prepare a grid that would be effective in preventing these very destructive wildfires.

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The Center has a Wildfire Mitigation Program that provides a road map for how the State of California could design a program for wildfire prevention.  Because of the convoluted nature of such a program, state legislation is needed to design such a complex program.  This is because there is no profit for insurance companies in wildfire prevention and only budget cuts for state agencies that would reduce wildfires.

Utilities should embrace wildfire prevention as part of their utility line replacement.  This support could also be an important pathway for wildfire prevention legislation approval since utilities are already lobbying to get approval for line replacement.  Utilities also already have the equipment in place to implement expanded firebreaks along their transmission and distribution line network.  Their efforts could be supplemented by state program equipment and personnel.

We can prevent these devastating wildfires, but there is no incentive to do so.  All of the incentives are on the fire fighting side of the equation.  Yet that equation is devastating for the residents of California who live in wildfire areas.

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