California Wildfires: Is this all about climate change?

Golden State Burning

The short answer is a big NO! A longer one needs a few more words. There is currently an overall consensus that the electrical lines running above ground are the main culprit of several of the ongoing disastrous wildfires across the Golden State. According to Wikipedia, the state of California has 26,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines, and 240,000 miles of distribution lines. Distribution lines bring electricity directly to homes: Around 66% of them statewide are above ground. That is a dramatic picture indeed.

66% of California's statewide distribution lines are above ground.

For transmission lines, the cost of under-grounding is about $80 million per mile while for distribution lines, the same expense is about $3 million per mile. All that compared to overhead lines at about $800,000 per mile.

The state's largest utility, PG&E, has 107,000 miles of distribution lines, 81,000 miles of which are overhead. The cost to convert all of PG&E's overhead distribution lines to underground lines would amount to a total of $240 billion, or $15,000 per PG&E customer.

$240 billion, or $15,000 per customer, are needed to put only PG&E distribution lines under the surface.

After the last disaster in the Northern areas of California, PG&E has indeed tried to save the saveable from the heavy liability by filing for bankruptcy. One can easily presume there are indeed potential buyers knocking on the bankrupt company's door for a possibly cheap and easy takeover. But the real question is: Who would buy a company with a market capitalization of around $3 billion (See here), to find itself almost immediately with $240 billion under-grounding expenses, without talking about the extra several billion dollars needed to put underground the transmission lines?

One solution could be a full takeover by the state but there is probably no real appetite for that. The other "wild" solution is to have the taxpayer pay for the under-grounding. That sounds way too Wall Street-style hack. How would such a thing work without a heavy political backlash? And voila' the million-dollar question: Could the solution be the collective anxiety caused by blackmailing the taxpayer-consumer? And how would you blackmail and push to total desperation the taxpayer-consumer?

The obvious answer is psychological pressure and panic caused, for example, by alarming text messages and robocalls sent by the utility company accompanied by the random power outages for totally unpredictable hours and days... 

You can have your analysis and answers but last Sunday when my wife and I had to celebrate a family event in total darkness, I felt truly corned no matter how tasty was the Pinot Grigio we were drinking...



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