Energy

To Avoid Liability, Utilities Blame ‘Climate Change’ For California Wildfires

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

Utility executives have a new liability-avoidance strategy for devastating California wildfires that power lines may have been caused — blame global warming.

It’s part of utilities’ plans to alter state laws and regulations on wildfire liability. Current legislation holds utilities responsible for equipment-related wildfires, regardless of whether or not companies followed safety rules.

“Communities across California have been tragically affected as climate change has increased the severity and frequency of wildfires in recent years,” Edison International CEO Pedro Pizarro said in an earnings call Thursday. “This is a statewide crisis that needs a statewide solution,” Pizarro added.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) CEO Geisha Williams said just two weeks ago the state was experiencing a “new normal” in terms of global-warming risks, according to Bloomberg. Williams said the issue was “ultimately a societal issue” needing “holistic solutions.”

Utilities are pressing lawmakers and regulators to change state policies, using global warming as part of their strategy. CEOs assert current policies should be revised to adapt to a world where wildfires are more frequent and intense due to man-made warming.

And why not use that talking point? Governor Jerry Brown blamed global warming for the terrible wildfires. Environmental activists have echoed the claim in their push to purge fossil fuels from the state.

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Of course, there’s little evidence global warming played a major role in the state’s devastating fire season last year.

The latest National Climate Assessment report actually availed a slight decrease in the number of large wildfires across California’s south and central coastal region where the record-breaking Thomas fire burned.

That report also found “low-to-medium confidence for a detectable, human climate-change contribution” for wildfires in the western U.S.

University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass actually looked at the data and found “no credible evidence that global warming is causing an increase currently or will increase in the future of the number or intensity of wildfires over coastal California.”

State officials are still looking into whether or not downed power lines sparked fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres, but PG&E stocks have already lost value over concerns they may be held liable for fire damages.

California residents are already blaming utilities. At least three lawsuits have been filed against Southern California Edison (Edison International subsidiary) for starting the December 2017 Thomas fire that engulfed Ventura County.

The Thomas fire was the largest blaze in state history, burning 440 square miles before being fully contained in January — thousands of buildings damaged, and a firefighter died amid the disaster.

A Bay Area News Group October report linked Sonoma County fires to faulty power lines and electrical transformers. Their assessment entailed county officials dispatched crews to 10 different locations over a 90-minute period where calls reported sparking wires amid high winds.

That fire destroyed thousands of buildings and killed 17 people in Sonoma and other countries. Power lines and electrical equipment are historically the leading cause of wildfires, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In early February, Santa Rosa Fire Department officials blamed power lines for two small fires that broke out. High winds buffeted the power lines and ignited two small fires separate from the massive wine-country fires.

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