An­swers on the way for Cal­i­for­nia’s wind and fire

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - News -

The big story in Cal­i­for­nia re­cently has been about wild­fires and elec­tric­ity.

Our state’s elec­tric power providers, pri­mar­ily Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric, which were soundly crit­i­cized for caus­ing fires be­cause they did not shut off their power lines in wild­land ar­eas, are now be­ing crit­i­cized be­cause they did what every­one de­manded they do.

It’s a clas­sic case of be­ing damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

I’m not ex­cus­ing PG&E or South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son, the util­ity that serves our part of the state, just stat­ing what hap­pened.

No power ser­vice (that I know of) was shut off out here in the desert, but it was in Te­hachapi.

I an­swer the phone for the Mo­jave Cham­ber of Com­merce and early one re­cent morn­ing I got a call from a lady ask­ing if the power was on in Mo­jave.

She said she was ask­ing be­cause she and her hus­band were head­ing here from Te­hachapi where the power was out and they couldn’t re­fuel their car.

I told her that Mo­jave’s ser­vice sta­tions, our restau­rants, our mo­tels and our space­port were all open for busi­ness.

She laughed and thanked me and said they were on their way.

I then called my sis­ter, Su­san Wig­gins, the mayor of Te­hachapi, who said some things about South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son which are not suit­able for pub­li­ca­tion in a fam­ily news­pa­per.

That’s be­cause SCE shut down power to the city’s po­lice com­mu­ni­ca­tions cen­ter, the sewage treat­ment plant and some but not all neigh­bor­hoods.

“There was no rhyme nor rea­son to the shut­downs,” Su­san said. “They seemed to make no ge­o­graph­i­cal sense.”

The only fire in the area was in Stal­lion Springs where a home burned up ap­par­ently be­cause the home­owner had a gen­er­a­tor run­ning in his garage.

Bar­bara Fer­rari of Jake’s Steak­house in Te­hachapi brought a gen­er­a­tor to work. Jake’s usu­ally serves just lunch and din­ner, but they did a great busi­ness serv­ing break­fast un­til the rest of the town’s power was re­stored.

Su­san was with­out power for 10 hours while Bear Val­ley Springs was dark for 40 hours.

She said Te­hachapi city of­fi­cials were able to get power back on in their of­fices with the help of state Sen­a­tor Shan­non Grove and Assem­bly­man Vince Fong “yelling at SCE.”

She also re­ceived an­gry calls from res­i­dents of the area who live out­side the city.

“One woman who lives in Golden Hills called me at 7 a.m. com­plain­ing about her power be­ing out,” she said.

“I sug­gested she call Su­per­vi­sor Zack Scrivener.”

Mo­jave calm

Bak­ers­field suf­fered wind and dust storms, as did much of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

But the desert, which is known for its “gen­tle zephyrs,” es­caped with light breezes, clear skies and brisk tem­per­a­tures.

This is usual. Bak­ers­field doesn’t get much wind but about ev­ery 20 years or so it re­ally blows, like it did back in the late ’70s when we were liv­ing in Te­hachapi.

My wife Bil­lye worked at a bank in Bak­ers­field and I was man­ag­ing the East Kern courts.

Bil­lye started to work and got to the Arvin cut­off when she de­cided to turn around.

In those pre-cell phone days of CB ra­dio she was hear­ing all kinds of hor­ror sto­ries as she headed west on High­way 58.

She was also meet­ing cars with sand­blasted wind­shields.

I had gone to the Ridge­crest court and got a call from the County Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fice telling me to send every­one home be­cause of the wind.

“What wind?” I asked. “It’s calm over here.”

The phe­nom­e­non of the desert es­cap­ing Santa Ana winds is com­mon. The worst dust storms I have ever seen were in Bak­ers­field in­clud­ing one in the 1950s.

Cal­trans dust

The worst one I ever saw out here was in 2004 when the Mo­jave Free­way By­pass was be­ing built and dirt from strip­ping the desert for fill dirt gen­er­ated un­nec­es­sary dust storms that re­sulted in ac­ci­dents.

That free­way was de­signed with its own wind prob­lem at Exit 165. The over­pass there that takes traf­fic from Mo­jave onto the new free­way was built 90 de­grees to the wind blow­ing out of Te­hachapi Pass.

At a pre-con­struc­tion meet­ing in Mo­jave we lo­cals, in­clud­ing the CHP, Cal­trans, fire dept., etc, tried to ex­plain what would hap­pen to the ge­nius Cal­trans en­gi­neers from Fresno who de­signed that mess.

When the free­way opened the trucks be­gan blow­ing over and con­tin­ued to do so un­til a wind fence was erected sev­eral years later.

Plac­ing blame

While the gov­er­nor and util­i­ties are catch­ing all the blame, it re­ally lies with lo­cal politi­cians who have al­lowed homes to be built where they shouldn’t even be con­sid­ered.

That’s been ob­vi­ous for many years and is worse be­cause of cli­mate change, which is ob­vi­ous to every­one ex­cept some politi­cians.

Years ago Kern County turned down a tract in Cum­mings Val­ley with roads so nar­row that a fire en­gine could not turn around.

So­lar to the res­cue?

Read­ing about this is­sue I and oth­ers think it may be moot in a few years.

Ad­ding a few more so­lar pan­els and bat­ter­ies to the pan­els al­ready on my roof would re­lease me from those few times when our power goes out, usu­ally dur­ing a windy rain storm. The only nat­u­ral gas we use is for heat­ing in win­ter and that can be elec­tri­fied.

This is not a sit­u­a­tion lim­ited to Cal­i­for­nia.

The worst elec­tric power ser­vice we ever en­dured was when we lived in Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia, in the 1980s, in a nice neigh­bor­hood around the cor­ner from Al Gore.

Our power went out so of­ten that I once asked a Vir­ginia Power em­ployee why we had to pay first world prices for third world ser­vice.

It’s a bit like com­plain­ing about high gaso­line prices. The tip­ping point for elec­tric cars is fast ap­proach­ing, helped along by “re­fin­ery out­ages” and other ex­cuses un­re­lated to gas taxes.

Just be pa­tient, folks.

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