Bury Fire-Causing Power Lines Now!
Bury Fire-Causing Power Lines Now!
We call on our legislators to sponsor and pass the Solutions Addressing Fire Emergencies (SAFE) trailer bill this summer to protect Californians from the growing number of wildfires and power shutdowns.
Our proposed SAFE trailer bill would allocate just 2% of California’s huge $76 billion budget surplus to finance $500 million worth of locally-controlled renewable energy microgrids, and create a $1 billion loan fund for utility companies to bury 500 miles of the state’s highest fire risk overhead power lines.
These two solutions are the most effective means of preventing fires and massive power shutdowns. Yet astonishingly, as California enters one of the driest, hottest fire seasons ever, not a single dollar of the state's unexpected budget windfall is being spent on these solutions.
Governor Newsom and the Senate Wildfire Working Group have earmarked $2 billion in the coming year's budget to prepare for, minimize, and fight wildfires AFTER they start; with nothing allocated for preventing them from starting.
That’s why we, the undersigned people of California, urge our legislators to support our trailer bill, which can be voted on through July, to fund solutions that protect us from wildfires and blackouts.
The proposed Solutions Addressing Fire Emergencies trailer bill would provide $500 million of state financing to build out about a dozen locally-controlled renewable energy microgrids. This would provide a funding mechanism to accompany Senator Bill Dodd's important Community Energy Resilience Act of 2021 (SB-99), which is expected to pass this year.
Renewable energy microgrids in fire-prone areas are an idea whose time has come, but the state has never provided funding to build them out. California's record $76 billion budget surplus provides a rare opportunity to begin implementing this important long term solution.
The SAFE bill would also provide $1 billion in loans, to be 50% matched by utility company spending, to quintuple the slow current pace of burying the highest hazard overhead power lines in the relatively tiny area of the state areas where they that caused fires, around the Butte CountyCamp Fire (2018) and Napa/Sonoma's Tubbs Fire (2017), the two most destructive in state history, as well as high risk power lines north of in North L.A. and Ventura County.
As reported at length in the Sonoma Independent, because of climate change-induced high winds, hot weather and drought, four of the six most destructive fires in the state since 2017, have been sparked by overhead power lines in a relatively tiny area of the state.
Burying overhead power lines is by far the most important preventive measure that our government can take to protect us from the catastrophic costs of wildfires to our lives, health, economy and environment.
As reported here, burying power lines will also reduce the expanding number of massive power shutdowns by PG&E and SCE that are ordered because of risks that high winds pose to overhead (but not buried) power lines.
These shutdowns, which uprooted more than 2.5 million Californians last year and are likely to increase in this year of record drought and winds, impact the lives of millions of Californians, especially residents in retirement, assisted-living, nursing home and private residences whose lives can depend on steady electricity for medical machinery.
These are our tax dollars. On behalf of our common future, we insist that our legislators spend just 2% of this year's unprecedented $76 billion budget surplus to save California from fires by voting to fund microgrids and bury 500 miles of high risk overhead power lines now!
Please help spread this petition. And call your state legislator (directory here) to demand that they protect us against fires and power shutdowns by funding power grids, burying overhead power lines, and passing Senator Dodd's Community Energy Resilience Act of 2021(SB-99)!
The SAFE trailer bill campaign is a grassroots advocacy effort created by the Sonoma Independent and its parent, the public interest media company Progressive Source Communications, in collaboration with the Davis Community Vision Alliance. For more info or to find out how you can donate or volunteer to help us spread this timely petition, contact info[at]ProgressiveSource.com.
Frequently Asked Questions About This Petition
Q: I thought California was already funding microgrids?
No. Numerous legislators have expressed support for microgrids and Senator Bill Dodd has advanced an important Community Energy Resilience Act of 2021 (SB-99) to create the legal and regulatory framework for locally-controlled microgrids, but California has yet to allocate funding for this important long term solution. The proposed Solutions Addressing Fire Emergencies (SAFE) trailer bill would provide sufficient funds for local entities to actually build out and deploy microgrids for the first time. These would provide a model for the funding and deployment of microgrids in the future.
Q: Do overhead power lines cause fires?
Yes. Overhead power lines have been responsible for the two most destructive fires in California history, the Tubbs fires near Santa Rosa (2017) and the Camp Fire near Paradise (2018), as well as the calamitous Woolsey Fire near Malibu (2018) and Sonoma County’s Glass Fire (2020).
Q: Would the worst fires in California history have happened if the power lines were buried?
No, they would not have happened. Buried power lines are underground, so they never fall down and light dry grass on fire after they are hit by high winds, storms and tree branches flying into them
Q: We can never afford to bury all the overhead power lines, can we?
There is no need to bury all the overhead power lines. Just the most hazardous 500 miles of them, in a relatively tiny area of California. These 500 miles of overhead lines represent less than one-quarter of 1% of the more than 200,000 miles of overhead power and transmission lines around the state. We do not need to bury the tens of thousands of miles of densely laid out power lines in cities or suburbs, or the tens of thousands of miles of power lines across the treeless desert, because they do not blow down in high winds and cause fires.
According to PG&E, the counties of Butte, Calavaras, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Sonoma and Yuba, which were home to both the Camp and the Tubbs fires (the state's two deadliest) contain a total of only 532 overhead power lines. This proposed $1 billion loan appropriation, when matched 50% by utility companies, is enough money to bury a total of 500 miles from these areas during the next two years, along with the most hazardous lines around Malibu and Santa Barbara, where windy hills next to dry grassy terrain create similar fire-sparking hazards.
Q: Isn’t California already budgeting enough for fire prevention under the Senate’s Blueprint for a Safe California and Governor Newsom’s increased CAL FIRE budget?
No. Governor Newsom’s recent funding proposal and a package of new bills passed by the Senate’s “Wildfire Working Group,” focuses on regulations, preparing for fires by clearing brush to diminish the spread of fires, formulating evacuation plans, making insurance available to farmers and providing the staffing, training and funding to fight fires AFTER they start.
Not a single California tax dollar is being spent on what is by far the most effective way to PREVENT the fires in the first place, which is to bury the fire lines that cause many of them, before they happen.
Q: How would burying the worst power lines impact power shutdowns?
Eliminating overhead lines in fire-prone high wind areas would eliminate the need for PG&E and SCE to preemptively shut down power because of damage-prone rural overhead lines during high winds. These shutdowns, which are happening with increasing frequency, impacted millions of Californians during the past few years, and are expected to grow this year, which is among the driest and windiest in history.
Q: Would it harm the environment to bury the power lines?
What harms the environment and causes catastrophic carbon emissions are the increasing number of major fires, most of which would have been prevented if the riskiest overhead power loans had been buried. California wildfires last year released a staggering 112 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. This number is greater than the estimated 73.4 million metric tons that all of the state's greenhouse gas reduction programs combined prevented from being released into the atmosphere in 2018.
Burying high risk power lines would also end the expanding practice of preemptive power outages, which themselves necessitate the wasting of refrigerated foods and the burning of thousands of tons of carbon from residents forced to relocate. The actual burying of the power lines in the most high-risk areas will disrupt a relatively small amount of land, while permitting trees to grow more freely near where overhead.
Q: Why does PG&E need government money to bury overhead lines?
Public utilities like PG&E own the power lines and are responsible for their maintenance. But because their profits are regulated by the state’s Public Utility Commission, they are only permitted to budget for the lowest cost of delivering electricity to consumers, regardless of the billions it costs Californians from fires. Because burying power lines can cost four times as much as running lines overhead, PG&E and SCE are not able to pass these costs on to ratepayers, so instead they use the lowest cost method. To avoid liability when their overhead lines cause fires, which they frequently do during high winds, the utility companies preemptively shut down power to increasingly large areas of customers, impacting millions of Californians.
Q: Is this a handout of taxpayer money to PG&E?
This appropriation would be a loan to the utility companies which would be paid back over time or be credited to the state if a takeover of the power lines or utility company assets occurred in the future. It would not increase profits to PG&E, but it would force PG&E to be part of a solution instead of expanding crippling power shutdowns to avoid liability.
Q: Why shouldn't PG&E pay part of the cost to bury overhead lines?
They should. That's why our proposed bill requires utility companies to co-pay $1 for every $2 in loan funding that the state spends to bury overhead lines, and to take that money from their profits instead of increasing rates.
The State’s Public Utility Regulatory commission would oversee the funding to ensure that the allocation did not result in any increased profits for the utilities.
Q: How many jobs would this appropriation create?
During the next two years, PG&E and SCE would use this funding, matched 50% by their own spending, to provide more than 1,500 high-paying union jobs to handle the dangerous line work, Meanwhile, Cal Fire could train and hire more than 5,000 low-skilled workers to help with less skilled but important tasks like operating a backhoe, digging and traffic control.