Electricity Hell, Part Deux
I have been less active in responding to comments since the evening of March 9. The reason is that at 7 p.m. our power went out and wasn’t restored until March 11 at 9 p.m. Then it went out again from March 13 at 9:30 a.m. to who knows when. I’m writing this at 3 p.m. March 17 and it’s supposed to come on again late on the evening of March 18. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Why does this happen? A huge element is nature. Another huge element is government.
First, nature. We have a lot of trees with fairly shallow roots. The ground they are in has been softened by rain that is approximately double the amount we normally get by this point in the season. Then we get wind, with or without rain, that blows the trees down on the electric wires. Then a power outage.
There are two possible solutions. First, put the wires underground as is happening very slowly in California. Second, cut down the trees before this happens.
Now to the second factor, government. Unfortunately, there is a vocal lobby of citizens who believe that as long as trees aren’t diseased, they shouldn’t be cut down. They persuade local governments not to allow homeowners or Pacific Gas & Electric to cut down healthy trees. It’s because of these citizens’ power that a tree blew over in Pacific Grove (the city where I live) about 10 years ago and killed an elderly woman. Her survivors sued and won approximately $1 million.
Ah, you say, but then wouldn’t that have caused citizens to change their tune and not oppose more cutting of healthy trees when they endanger people or could blow over onto electric wires? But if you ask that, you don’t know Californians, or at least a vocal segment of Californians.
I think it was after the tree fell and killed the elderly woman that the city government of Pacific Grove hired a forester who came here from Wisconsin. Sounds like a good move, right? One of his first actions was to go around the city looking at city owned property and coming up with a list of trees to be cut. If I recall correctly, the goal he was tasked with was to reduce the probability of future trees falling and killing or injuring people. His list was presented at a city council meeting. Many citizens got up to speak to oppose the cutting of this or that tree.
The guy was probably pretty smart and could see where his career as a forester was likely to go in Pacific Grove. The very next morning, the city manager came into his office and found the forester’s letter of resignation. It said words to this effect: “I’m resigning because Pacific Grove has lots of foresters.”
Mar 19 2023 at 11:06am
It seems to me that the owner(s) of the tree or trees in question should bear some of the responsibility. AND that the utility companies should bear some responsibility for routing through accident prone areas, up to and including refusal to run power to high risk areas.
Such that a citizen that wishes to protect a particular tree on city property should be willing to pay the relevant insurance premiums for potential damage from that tree.
Thomas Lee Hutcheson
Mar 19 2023 at 1:35pm
Yes, and the insurance premium should be based on forward-looking assessments of risk taking account, inter alia, of ACC induced changes in weather patterns. This is the same principle that should apply to damage from wildfires and other weather-related risks.
Mar 19 2023 at 11:17am
German here. Over here, power lines are always underground. Which is of course much more expensive in both construction and maintenance, and with population density in the US much lower, it may make more sense to have power lines above ground.
I recall being amazed 30 years ago at seeing a house in the US burn down because a tree fell on a power line and deposited it on the roof of that house.
I could not remember a power outage that went on for more than half an hour over here at any time in my life.
Mar 19 2023 at 12:46pm
To the extent we can, many places are burying lines in the US. But some parts ofthe country, it’s impossible. For example, in Florida and parts of Louisiana, you cannot bury power lines. The water table is too high. In other places like New Hampshire, the state is on a giant granite slab and it is extraordinarily costly to drill through for power lines.
I do like the idea of buried power lines. However, in the US, the places most prone to weather-related disasters (the Gulf Coast in particular) have geography that practically forbids buried lines. What a conundrum!
Mar 19 2023 at 7:23pm
Residential power lines are typically underground in Germany, yes.
The big high voltage lines between cities are overground on Pylons even in Germany.
(And I assume there’s probably some rule about not letting trees grow to close to them?)
Mar 20 2023 at 7:39pm
you can’t have any high growth near them because they’re exposed high voltage lines and a tree touching it from the ground would create a closed loop.
Mar 19 2023 at 12:19pm
Maybe the biggest element is the treehugger. The tree is to the treehugger as the cow is to the Hindu: holy. They are particularly fanatical in California. Here is an example of what you’re dealing with.
Mar 19 2023 at 12:41pm
The tree hugger is not a third element. The tree hugger would have no power over trees in other people’s yards and on government property if he/she couldn’t persuade the government to prevent other people from cutting on their property and to stop cutting on government property.
I do appreciate the link, though.
Mar 19 2023 at 1:28pm
Unless we have treehuggers in control of government. Regardless, glad you enjoyed the link. Cheers!
Mar 19 2023 at 10:09pm
And wouldn’t you know it, a tree hugger – oh, sorry…a city arbonist – is in control of issuing permits to have problem Cypress trees removed.
Pacific Grove: A Problem With Trees
Mar 20 2023 at 12:08am
Mar 19 2023 at 3:40pm
In my US upper midwest suburb, new development’s wires are all underground. Existing wires stay exposed on poles but a couple of decades ago the electricity supplier began removing all tree limbs, no matter what size, from above wires along streets and rights-of-way. This was started after a three-day blackout caused by … trees and limbs taking wires down during a severe thunderstorm.
People without electricity are louder and more powerful than “tree huggers.” Emergency power line repairs are expensive.
Mar 20 2023 at 9:58am
First, sorry to hear about the power outages you’ve been going through. I used to always find the first day or so of those fun, and then it pretty quickly became less so as you had to worry about food spoiling and all the other conveniences that electricity provides.
I’d say though, this provides an opportunity for self sorting. You could move to an area where trees are not as highly valued by the community and not have to put up with power outages.
I love trees. I hate seeing trees get cut down, even when I know that it is a net benefit. Which turns out to actually be one of the benefits from moving to NYC almost two decades ago. Here, there are few trees to speak of, which means I’ve got no real objection to new development, as it bothers me a lot less to see old buildings torn down. Another benefit, in those two decades I’ve not lost power even a single time, which includes multiple hurricanes and floods, major snow storms, a tornado that touched down a couple of blocks from my apartment, and many other minor things that would have certainly led to lost power in any place I lived before.
James P. Gerner
Mar 20 2023 at 4:14pm
Soon to come you will have outages stemming from not enough power being generated because between your government and green activists you will have shut down those evil fossil fuel plants, with nobody checking with the engineers to identify alternative power sources. These are the same people who don’t allow deadfall to be cleared to prevent massive forest fires and who have taken no steps to capture water in your drought-stricken state.
Mar 20 2023 at 9:45pm
I’m afraid my only advice is either get a generator or get out of California. There are even inexpensive solutions to use your car as the generator (with enough power to run your major appliances in a round robin sort of way)
Mar 21 2023 at 3:06pm
ORDINANCE NO. 21-014
ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PACIFIC GROVE GRANTING A UTILITY EASEMENT TO PACIFIC GAS AND ELECTRIC COMPANY, A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION
* * *
SECTION 5. The City … grants rights under this easement for the Grantee, from time to time, to trim or to cut down, without Grantee paying compensation, any and all trees and brush now or hereafter within said easement area, and shall have the further right, from time to time, to trim and cut down trees and brush along each side of said easement area which now or hereafter in the opinion of Grantee may interfere with or be a hazard to the facilities installed on the easement….
Mar 21 2023 at 5:04pm
It’s too bad that they did the easement for only this little part of city property.
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