California utility may have to turn off power to prevent wildfires, re-inspect entire grid, judge proposes

Embattled Northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. may be ordered to inspect its electric grid and turn off power during windy conditions to prevent wildfires this year, a federal judge proposed Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup said in his court order that the recommendations to cut power during certain wind conditions, regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit, would be to prevent devastation like the kind that ripped through the region last year.

"This will likely mean having to interrupt service during high-wind events (and possibly at other times) but that inconvenience, irritating as it will be, will pale by comparison to the death and destruction that otherwise might result from PG&E-inflicted wildfires," he wrote.

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Fire season in California runs from June 21 to the first region-wide rainstorm in November or December, according to KTVU.

To prevent wildfires, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. should re-inspect its entire electric grid and cut off power during certain wind conditions regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit, a U.S. judge proposed/

To prevent wildfires, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. should re-inspect its entire electric grid and cut off power during certain wind conditions regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit, a U.S. judge proposed/ (AP Photo/John Antczak, File)

Alsup gave PG&E until Jan. 23 to respond to his proposal, which comes after he began demanding answers from the utility on any role it may have played in the Camp Fire. That blaze started Nov. 8 and killed at least 86 people, destroyed 14,000 homes and leveled Paradise, a city of 27,000 residents.

PG&E reported an equipment malfunction at the time and location where the fire started, causing the company’s stock to plummet. Fire officials have not yet officially said what caused the blaze, but have focused on power equipment.

Alsup noted in Wednesday’s order that state fire investigators have determined PG&E caused eighteen wildfires in 2017, twelve of which they referred for possible criminal prosecution.

The company faces $ 15 billion in damages and cleanup costs and numerous related lawsuits for the 2017 blazes and could face billions more in damages if investigators determine its equipment started the state’s most destructive fire.

POWER EQUIPMENT NEAR START OF CAMP FIRE IN CALIFORNIA HAD DAMAGE, UTILITY REVEALS

Alsup, who accused the utility of a "history of falsification of inspection reports," proposed the utility to remove or trim any trees and repair any damaged transmission equipment that could cause wildfires.

An energized power line and insulator appeared to have separated from one of the metal towers near the area where the Camp Fire broke out, the company told regulators earlier this month.

An energized power line and insulator appeared to have separated from one of the metal towers near the area where the Camp Fire broke out, the company told regulators earlier this month. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

He’s also considering ordering the utility during the 2019 wildfire season to supply electricity only to those parts of its electrical grid it has determined to be safe under wind conditions at the time.

PG&E has previously cut power to thousands of customers because of high fire danger but told regulators last year that weather conditions didn’t warrant shutting the power off the day the Camp Fire erupted.

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The utility said in a statement Wednesday it was reviewing Alsup’s order.

Pacific Gas and Electric said last month it determined weather conditions were no longer dangerous enough to warrant a massive power shut off on Nov. 8 - a decision that came as a massive fire was tearing through a Northern California town.

Pacific Gas and Electric said last month it determined weather conditions were no longer dangerous enough to warrant a massive power shut off on Nov. 8 – a decision that came as a massive fire was tearing through a Northern California town. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

"We are committed to complying with all rules and regulations that apply to our work, while working together with our state and community partners and across all sectors and disciplines to develop comprehensive, long-term safety solutions for the future," the company said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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