State investigation finds decades-long neglect of PG&E lines

Folks here know that I have been arguing for some time that the California wildfires have been a political tragedy, but not the sort of political tragedy most people claim. A lot of attention has been paid to bad environmental policies regarding not clearing brush from open lands. I argued that PG&E blew most of the funds it had available for ongoing maintenance and reinvestment in existing infrastructure on bullshit “green” projects and thus ran its existing infrastructure well beyond its useful life.

Well, that was the verdict of a state investigation into the 2018 Camp Fire, which was completed last month and just publicly released today. The report included some redactions, so who knows what else is in there.

Imagine that – a report from enforcement at a public utility commission that involves redacted sections. Is the report about electricity or CIA plots? Don’t you wonder what or whom they are protecting?

From the Wall Street Journal tonight:

PG&E Corp. failed to adequately inspect and maintain its transmission lines for years before a faulty line started the deadliest fire in California history, a state investigation has found.

In a 700-page report detailing the problems that led the Caribou-Palermo transmission line to malfunction on Nov. 8, 2018, sparking the Camp Fire, investigators with the California Public Utilities Commission said they found systemic problems with how the company oversaw safety of its oldest lines.

State fire investigators had previously determined that PG&E equipment started the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people, and the company hasn’t disputed the findings. But the new report goes well beyond earlier findings, alleging numerous serious violations of state rules for maintaining electric lines and specific problems with upkeep of the transmission line that started the fire ….

“The identified shortcomings in PG&E’s inspection and maintenance of the incident tower were not isolated, but rather indicative of an overall pattern of inadequate inspection and maintenance of PG&E’s transmission facilities,” the report by the commission’s safety and enforcement division found.

Investigators also found that PG&E crews hadn’t climbed the tower that malfunctioned and sparked the Camp Fire since at least 2001, a violation of company policy requiring such inspections on towers that have recurring problems.

They concluded that a climbing inspection of the tower during that time “could have identified the worn C-hook before it failed, and that its timely replacement could have prevented ignition of the Camp Fire.”

PG&E sought bankruptcy protection in January, citing more than $30 billion in potential liabilities from fires sparked by its equipment. This fall, the utility has blacked out millions of its own customers during strong winds to try to prevent its equipment from starting more fires, a move that has generated widespread criticism, including from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state leaders.

Let the absurdity wash over you for a moment: The last time someone climbed the tower that caused the deadliest wildfire in California history, terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center.

When I said PG&E was letting its infrastructure rot in the service of its political bullshit, I had no idea how bad it was.

According to the WSJ, the Caribou-Palermo line went into operation in 1921. To say that the equipment was past its useful life doesn’t even cover it. Think Babe Ruth’s home run record, the establishment of the Irish free state, and wrapping up the loose ends of WWI. It’s insane. Shit, Thomas Edison himself was still alive when they originally ran those lines.

You can’t argue that this was an accident, an inspection that happened to miss something. This is a systemic failure. And it’s not just PG&E. It’s the California government and regulators who have failed across decades to serve their basic function, which is to protect human life and property. For what?

This country needs a hell of a lot fewer political activists and a hell of a lot more people with basic competency. The scale of destruction of economic value and human cost that can be attributed to people with a surfeit of feelings over reason is beyond words.

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