Answers on the way for California’s wind and fire
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.”
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.
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.
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.