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Blackouts and wildfires are our life for the next 10 years: California mayor

Nick Rose

California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency as two fast-moving wildfires spread throughout Los Angeles and Sonoma Counties, forcing thousands of people to evacuate their homes across the state. The fires have spread despite preventative measures taken by local utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PCG), which introduced rolling blackouts in order to reduce the likelihood of catastrophe, but local officials said the blazes aren’t going away any time soon.

“I was talking to other area officials and we’re pretty certain that this is going to be our life for about the next 10 years,” said Melanie Bagby, mayor of Cloverdale, California. “That’s about how long it’s going to take to be able to upgrade the electrical grid and our infrastructure. What we really need to be doing is going to micro-grids and localizing our power, but that kind of sweeping infrastructure change does take time and it’s going to have a huge effect on the California economy.”

Firefighters work to defend homes from an approaching wildfire in Sonoma, California, U.S. October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

PG&E is ‘not accountable to anybody’

According to a report from PG&E, the Sonoma County fire that’s raging through California’s wine country (also known as the Kincade fire) may have been caused by a broken jumper cable found near the base of one of its transmission towers. Although the company has not yet accepted responsibility for the fire, it’s clear the power outages were not as effective as they had hoped.

“The first rolling blackout was basically two sections. The northern part of town was unaffected, but the lower part of town where a lot of our services and a lot of our tax revenue come from and of course one of our major area breweries was affected. So that was painful from a revenue standpoint,” Bagby said.

When asked if PG&E has been an effective communicator on the ground, Bagby told Yahoo Finance, “We are much happier with their outreach. We are much happier with the information they are sharing, but of course, it comes a little late.”

“As an elected official, it’s also part of my job to educate people... when PG&E does a blackout, they are not accountable to anybody. They can make a unilateral decision and they don’t really answer to anybody and we need to change that. And where we need to change that is at the state level and at the CPUC.”

Nick Rose is a producer for Yahoo Finance.

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