A preventative power outage as widespread as the one instituted in northern California is not a decision many utility companies are going to make lightly. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) recently left some 141,000 customers in the dark as part of a “preemptive action to avert another destructive wildfire like those which took dozens of lives and destroyed thousands of homes over the past two years.” Stephen Troese Jr, an energy services veteran whose experience includes oversight of the efficiency industry, is watching this October 2019 experiment with much interest. In short, PG&E aims to power down its utility lines so strong winds can’t topple trees into towers, thus sparking wildfires that regions of California have been wrecked by in recent years. From the position of a bill-paying customer, the “outrage” that the Chronicle reported isn’t all that surprising. Taken from the point of view of a power company that knows something needs to change in order to protect the environment, one would suspect that other states will soon adopt similar measures.
Part of Stephen Troese Jr’s work includes providing consulting advice to energy service companies. These ESCOs are often in a perilous situation, as the expectation is that turn-key solutions can be deployed and efficient lighting be installed at a variety of buildings. It’s not so straightforward and audits, project management work and the “close-out” process at the end of a project are all essential steps along the way. This type of thorough work provides the ESCO with the confidence that the final product has been built out to exceed industry standards. Will it help PG&E prevent future deliberate outages? That’s hard to say, according to Stephen Troese Jr. Lighting controls that include options for dimming and afterhours vacancy would theoretically draw less power across those electric lines running through dry forested areas. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to predict which strong gust of wind is going to take down a seemingly well-rooted tree. This is what’s at the heart of the PG&E effort and despite local customer complaints, it’s likely to benefit the state of California as a whole.
All told, the utility company plans to temporarily cut power to some 800,000 customers across the central and northern parts of the state. Stephen Troese Jr has worked with countless ESCOs during his long tenure in the energy services field. For this reason, the news out of California is of great interest and shows that drastic decisions sometimes need to be made despite public outcry.