California’s Great Blackout of 2019 has begun as the lights keep going out for millions across the state’s northern stretches. What should be the past now seems to be the future.
Pacific Gas and Electric began shutting down power early the morning of Oct. 9, when electricity was cut to more than 140,000 customers in Sonoma, Napa, Solano, and Marin counties. Those outages and the ones that followed were ordered because there was a high risk of wildfires. By Tuesday, weeks later, the media were reporting that nearly 2 million Northern California residents were expecting to be hit by the fourth planned blackout of the month,
PG&E is hoping to avoid a repeat of last year, in which electrical transmission lines owned and operated by the utility sparked the Camp Fire, which killed 85 civilians, burned more than 150,000 acres and nearly 15,000 homes, and injured several firefighters. It was the deadliest, most destructive fire in California history.
PG&E labeled the disruption a “public safety power shutoff.” The utility industry calls it “de-energization,” a sort of euphemism that sounds less serious than “blackout.” It’s not a word that should be used in the 21st century in California. But there it is.
This state has long considered itself a model of progress, always pressing forward. Yet California now chooses darkness. And rather than being a rare exception, these autumn blackouts are more likely a preview of coming long night.
A modern state with a modern economy, a state not fighting typhus and other Medieval diseases in its streets, would have resolved the problem before the blackouts began. But California’s system for delivering electricity is primarily managed by utilities that are lumbering, inflexible bureaucracies operating government-protected monopolies.
The entire blame can’t be placed on a utility, though. PG&E might have provided the spark that started the Camp Fire, but government supplies the fuel for forest fires that turn into raging wildfires, burning everything in their path. Federal environmental policy, driven by activists, has “continuously thwarted” the use of “scientific management techniques — including logging, prescribed burns, and thinning — to treat forest fuel loads” in preventing fires, says Hoover Institution researcher Terry Anderson. The eco-groups would rather “let nature take her course.”
While living trees feed the flames, dead trees are high-octane fuel, and there might be nearly 150 million of them in California, says the U.S. Forest Service. Removing them from areas near homes and other structures, including power lines and equipment, reduces risk. But it isn’t easy. Not only do environmentalists oppose their removal, especially in the deep timber, in some instances, government permits are necessary, and on occasion, only a licensed contractor can legally do the job.
With California being “a place that nature built to burn,” according to university professor and fire historian Steven J. Pyne, there’s no avoiding a tomorrow filled with fires if man refuses to harness his environment.
The first two blackouts alone could cost the state’s economy $3 billion, says a Stanford professor, as business and commerce have had to take forced holidays. Students have missed school. Virtue-signalers have had to park their dead electric vehicles. It’s been weeks of people stumbling around in dark homes, few daring to open their refrigerators for fear of spoiling the groceries. Dining by candlelight has been by necessity, not in hope of romance. And only for those who have gas ovens (which have been outlawed in several California cities) and kept manual can openers in their kitchen drawers.
And let’s not forget at least one person died.
California is, both literally and figuratively, entering its own Dark Age. Decades of Blue State policies have fundamentally altered the trajectory of the state. Businesses and residents have been fleeing the slow-motion wreck for years and will continue to do so. No longer is California the land of opportunity, it is a purgatory of high taxes, unaffordable housing, an outrageously steep cost of living, crumbling roads and bridges, soul-grinding traffic, and catastrophic homelessness.
Each of these is a man-made disaster created by public policy that limits and directs rather than frees and stimulates.
Entrepreneurship, once both the heart and backbone of the state, has become increasingly under regulatory assault. Rabid pursuit of green policies promises a Third World energy future. The transport of water over long distances, solved by the ancient Romans more than 2,000 years ago, and before them the Egyptians, baffles today’s policymakers. One party controls both the legislative and executive levers and behaves more like a ruler than a representative.
Far from advancements, these are regressions toward a less-enlightened time. California is falling into the shadows.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.
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