Why are there blackouts in California?

October 30, 2019

By Assemblyman Vince Fong

Millions of Californians across our state are justifiably frustrated and upset with the continued blackouts. Devastating wildfires continue to grip our state and in response, our major utility providers are opting to shut down power to millions of residents, businesses, and critical care facilities statewide. The public is therefore asking the right questions: who should be held accountable and what can be done to fix this major problem?

From a state policy perspective, there are a number of policies that have contributed to this unacceptable status quo.

First, Sacramento has imposed major regulations year after year that make it more expensive for utility companies to comply with increasingly burdensome energy mandates year after year, which takes away from resources needed for utility infrastructure upgrades. In fact, PG&E is currently spending $2.4 billion annually to comply with the state’s mandate to buy renewable power. However, PG&E spends only $1.5 billion to update its outdated infrastructure and power lines.

In order to prevent more Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) by utility companies, we need more funding to go toward hardening their utility lines, so they aren’t as exposed to multi-billion-dollar wildfire liability, which is the reason why PG&E is currently in bankruptcy. Our state’s energy mandates and policies have not made much sense — we need all sources to be part of our energy portfolio — natural gas, solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, and petroleum. We want reliable and affordable energy AND for our lights to remain on.

Second, Sacramento policies have prevented decades of meaningful and responsible forestry and vegetation management. The fires we have seen statewide the last couple years have been so massive and difficult to manage because the state has abrogated its duty to reduce the fuels in our high-fire risk areas. When we are responsibly managing our forests, we prevent the likelihood of massive wildfires that end up putting residents and responders in significant danger and risking billions of dollars in property damage. Environmental litigation led by special interest have prevented necessary vegetation management to minimize our wildfire risk. Ironically, these massive wildfires have led to an incredible amount of carbon emission into our atmosphere.

To address these major policy problems that have brought us to where we are now, I co-authored legislation with my colleagues Assemblyman James Gallagher and Senator Jim Nielsen to ensure the state is no longer accepting these power shut downs as the “new normal.”

Specifically, our bill will temporarily pause the state’s renewable power mandates until both our utility infrastructure and forestry/vegetation management are improved and brought to acceptable levels. We need to make sure utility companies are properly prioritizing these urgent needs before spending resources on new energy mandates. The bill will require that savings from this temporary relief may only be used to harden utility lines and reduce forest fuels.

We can all agree that the status quo is not how the 5th largest economy in the world should operate. It is shameful and unacceptable. Sacramento needs to get its act together and make aggressive and rapid actions to turn this chapter as quickly as possible. This will require the ruling party to reject non-sense arguments from their special interest allies and to do what is in the best interest of the public whom they serve. I will fight vigorously to pass this important legislation for all the residents who live and work in this state.