Californias on Fire, Unplugged and Out of Easy Answers. So Why Dont Weů? Lost Coast Outpost Humb The easy calls have been made in dealing with Californias wildfire crisis. Were clearing brush, spending on firefighters, hastening insurance claims. Weve tied the pay of utility executives to their companies safety records. To save lives and liability costs during red flag conditions, weve cut power to great swaths of the state. Weve spent billions: Rare is the from Gov. Gavin Newsom that does not includeBut it hasnt been enough, and as Californians now face the realities of climate change by the terrified millions, the only choices left are hard vs. hard: Black out even more people. Ban wildland homebuilding. Bury power lines. Build microgrids. Break up the states largest utility the bankrupt one supplying half of the state and give its aging, spark spewing equipment to taxpayers or customers or hedge funds or Warren Buffett. Burn nature before it burns you. So what are our options at this point, assuming we get through this season? Here are a few with pros, cons and political odds. Elizabeth Castillo and Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this explainer. A hinge burns on Baker Canyon at Husk Ave from the Tick Fire in Canyon Country, October 24, 2019. Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG The idea: One in three homes in California is in for wildfire. Those residences, poised on the edge of, and sometimes in the midst of rugged, flammable wildlands, are increasingly in peril. And too often, the kind of insurance thats necessary to rebuild. The pros: This is a issue. If people can be prohibited from building in a flood plain, or warned about living on a fault line why not write ordinances that either say no to building in dangerous places or require homeowners and businesses to sign a waiver absolving authorities from the need to provide fire protection to them? The cons: Property rights are big in American jurisprudence. People want to build where they choose and get irritated when the state Sometimes forces people to homes in rural places. And build at your own risk isnt the mantra of a society that believes public safety is part of a governments role. The odds: Imagine a telling a property developer who may or may not donate to political campaigns that we will no longer make room on forested hills for new luxury subdivisions, with their alluring property tax potential. Not gonna happen. In any case, Gov. Gavin Newsom has telling the Associated Press in April, Theres something that is truly Californian about the wilderness and the wild and pioneering spirit. Odds are zip. A fallen transformer and downed power lines in Santa Rosa, following the Tubbs Fire of 2017. Nhat V. Meyer/San Jose Mercury News via AP The idea: Some of the most catastrophic wildfires in recent years have been sparked by electrical equipment. PG E, in particular, has been bankrupted by liability for apocalyptic fires caused by aging wires and towers. Its solution? Apocalyptic blackouts. The pros: It would be safer. And its not unheard of. Since 2009, Australia has required undergrounding of new lines. The cons: Its incredibly slow. PG E alone has some 81,000 miles of overhead lines. Undergrounding makes damaged lines hard to access, and . Theyre just one source of risk among many. And its reallllly expensive. PG E puts the price at about dollar 2.3 million a mile on average compared with dollar 800,000 per mile for building new overhead lines. The odds: On a scale of 1 10? Maybe a 3, though the cost benefit improves with every utility sparked wildfire. But , as California rolls out the 5 G digital infrastructure needed for high speed internet and self driving cars. The idea: An inordinate number of catastrophic wildfires have been traced to Pacific Gas and Electric, which powers most of Northern California, from big cities to remote wildlands. Either transition Californias largest investor owned utility into one or break PG E into a . The pros: PG E is a bankrupt corporation that has been found guilty of , not to mention a history of water contamination, pipeline explosions and electrical fires that are . It knew for years that was at risk of sparking wildfires. And CEO stands to make millions if the companys stock rebounds after bankruptcy. So yes, PG Es track record makes it easy to rally public support for a government takeover. The cons: Breaking up PG E may be more and leaves questions about how to serve rural communities, such as the Sierra foothills, where it is more expensive to maintain the electric grid. Plus, those wooded areas are at greater risk for wildfires, no matter whose wire the spark comes from. The odds: Maybe 3? and other cities are exploring the possibility of escaping PG E. But of PG E territory is litigious and costly, if history is a guide. The idea: Sensing no political downside, Newsom is demanding PG E offer dollar 100 to residential customers and dollar 250 to small businesses to compensate people for the recent public safety power shutdowns. The pros: Other businesses offer your money back if customers dont get service. Californians use less electricity than customers in other states, on average, but their . And theres no harm for politicians in demanding refunds from, say, a company like PG E, which is both unpopular and bankrupt. The cons: PG E blackouts for October alone have hit more some two million households, and, as noted, that utility is bankrupt. In any case, any rebate would be a mere gesture compared to what Californians are about to pay for electricity. So far, the average PG E customer stands to pay an even before all the details of bankruptcy are worked out. The odds: Eight in 10 of some policy going forward. Newsom has already . On Tuesday, acknowledging blunders, PG E announced a one time credit to those impacted by its Oct. 9 blackout, which cut power to more than 700,000 customers. Breaking ground on the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid. Photo: California Energy Commission. The idea: If the big utilities are, and creating the untenable that are impacting millions of Californians, why not pull the plug on for profit power companies? The pros: A microgrid is a power system that operates independently from the. The systems produce, store and distribute power on a small scale and offer precisely whats needed in times of chaos:. A tiny grid can provide power to operate critical infrastructure during emergencies, such as hospitals and. The cons: As the technology stands right now, microgrids, as the name implies, are not applicable for large scale deployment, although the desert community of hums along using one. There are still some technological barriers to be overcome. The odds: Moving en masse to a system of microgrids is a dream for some, but still a distant one. The state is the issue. And legislators are not ones to let a crisis go to waste. Expect even more attention to this in Sacramento. Odds are 6 out of 10. The idea: Fighting fire with fire has been going on in California since before European settlement. If carefully planned and monitored, these small purpose set fires can quickly remove dangerous fuels and. The pros: is a critical component of Californias approach to fire mitigation. Its an inexpensive alternative to tree cutting: Sending crews in to physically remove trees can cost as much as dollar 1,400 an acre. Controlled burns are a relative bargain, coming in at about dollar 150 an acre. Small, low intensity burns are ultimately. And its more efficient than that idea ů The cons: Even closely monitored burns discharge polluting and. Its not uncommon for a prescribed burn that took two years to plan to be scrubbed because residents in a nearby town complained. Also the flames can be dangerous and its a bit jarring to see firefighters set fires. The odds: Very good, an 8. The state is. Everyone likes the idea of controlled burns, in theory. But we may all just have to get used to them as a norm. The idea: We are Americans. More is better. Why cant we have everything? The pros: Fire folks like to talk about tools in the toolbox. Who doesnt want the biggest toolbox with the to tackle a dangerous and unpredictable job? Why use puny when you can call up a retrofitted patrolling the sky like a pterodactyl, dousing flames with nearly 19,000 gallons of retardant? Even when machines are grounded by wind, its reassuring to have them near. The cons: Some wildfires are predictable, inviting crews to swarm over them, all but stamping them out with their boots. Those polite fires dont tend to be California fires. The infernos menacing Northern and Southern California are driven by, typical for this time of year. Putting resources in front of those flames is dangerous and not always effective: Aircraft and machines and people in uniform may not stop a wind driven fire until winds die down or rain falls. And paying for fleets of tankers, helicopters, bulldozers and crews to sit around waiting for the weather to change is. The odds: Pretty good. Maybe 7 out of 10. As noted, fire folks like a well stocked toolbox and usually, Cal Fire gets what Cal Fire wants. The idea: California is home to a , but the investor owned ones think PG E have a fiduciary duty to shareholders that complicates spending on public safety. So let the government run the grid. The pros: The public, not shareholders or investors, would set rates through a governing body or a board and there would be to improve safety and maintain equipment. Public utilities operate their own generation facilities or purchase power through contracts. And they would have access to public financing. No more worrying about shareholder returns. The cons: Turning private corporations into government run providers would be difficult, pricey and a gamble. The public would have to pony up billions just to acquire all private providers, including the biggest three: Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison. Then the public is left holding the bag if there are problems, such as deadly wildfires. And publicly owned utilities arent necessarily without controversy. Consider the at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which serves 3.9 million customers and whose power lines The odds: Like, 1 in 10. Gov. Gavin Newsom could talk up a state takeover of PG E, if the political will were there for it, but hes talked up and other potential white knights instead. The idea: , or de energization, have been used in California since 2013, mainly by San Diego Gas and Electric during high fire danger to reduce the risk of electrical fires. The pros: SDG E hardened its system after a 2007 wildfire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and killed two people. It now operates a grid of major transmission lines, smaller distribution lines and circuits that allows distribution from different paths. The company also has invested in which are pole mounted circuit breakers that allow authorities to more surgically pinpoint trouble on a line and shut off power to smaller areas. The utilitys blackouts have affected as many as 23,000 households, and as few as one or two customers. The cons: PG E cant be so precise. It serves 70,000 square miles of California, and runs a radial system, meaning power lines stretch over long distances. PG E serves 16 million customers compared to 3.6 million for SDG E over 4,100 square miles. The odds: Eight in 10, but itll be a work in progress. According to PG Es , it pledged to work on finding ways to reduce the impact of blackouts ahead of this years wildfire season. So far, the utility has to millions of people in dozens of counties several times in October. The idea: Alerting the public can be the difference between life and death. But too often, emergency notifications come too late. During last years Camp Fire, a large number of residents . At the time, the most effective system came from knocking on doors and word of mouth. California has to do better. With 85 lives lost, that blaze is now the The pros: For the first time, the state has issued for when and how to issue public alerts, suggestions for what information to include in a message, and where to distribute those warnings. The 83 page report released in March by the Governors Office of Emergency Services recommends alerting communities through as many platforms as possible, from wireless emergency alerts, traditional landlines and TV and radio to door to door notification, loudspeakers and sirens. Cal Fire also has an alert that lets users receive customized texts and push notifications about wildfires reported within a chosen ZIP code or 30 miles of a phones location. State officials now say is probably the best way to keep the public informed. The cons: All of the above is still pretty tech heavy, and recent fires and blackouts have shown that cell phones can be rendered . Tech access isnt equal in all parts of California. While most of the 58 counties have access to a new federal system, are not signed up. And despite those warning guidelines from CalOES, the state is still working on uniform terms so various state and local government agencies understand each other in an emergency. The odds: Six in 10, at least in the short term. Progress is being made but emergency communications still need work. The idea: Cell phones arent reliable during emergencies and PG E blackouts have already resulted in a of cell phone service, so lets go analog. California should bring back landlines. The pros: Landlines are time tested, typically underground and can be operated with minimal power. The cons: They arent what they used to be. Modern landlines frequently operate on , which sends calls over the internet, not a traditional phone line. If the powers out, then a house phone might not work. Nor are companies required to offer backup power for VOIP lines. This is already as blackouts affect the state. Another problem? Folks with landlines often use cordless phones, which require electricity. The odds: Two out of 10. In 2017, more than half of U.S. households relied on alone. As phone companies increasingly lean on the internet to provide service, landlines figure less and less into Californias emergency back up plan. The idea: These are not your fathers wildfires. California was built to burn, but that natural propensity has been amplified by climate change to a perilous degree. Costly though it may be, we should do whatever it takes to curb the greenhouse gas pollution behind global warming now, if it isnt already too late. Pros: Californias burning while the climate deniers make a joke out of the standards that protect us all, The blood is on your soul here and I hope you wake up. Because this is not politics, this is life, this is morality. ů This is real. Cons: Bringing greenhouse gas pollution down from the worlds current, existentially threatening levels, is a far bigger job than California alone can afford to bankroll. And Americans, even those who dont deny the threat, about the change, sacrifice and massive expense required by the solutions. The odds: Climate change may not be the tip top priority it was in the Brown administration, but Browns Democratic party is highly unlikely to depart from the policies that made California a climate leader. So 9 in 10 odds that the status quo here will continue, though its another story in the Trump administrations Washington. And lets be real: The ability of one state to solve global climate change is limited. Even California doesnt have that much climate control. Or hubris. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.