If you haven’t yet heard, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the country’s largest power utility filed for bankruptcy last month as a result of more than $30 billion in liabilities incurred from wildfires ignited by its grid.
Surprisingly, this isn’t a first.
PG&E declared bankruptcy in 2001, but the circumstances surrounding the company’s bankruptcy this time around are different and, once taken into account, make some of the best reasons yet why it’s time for Californians to decentralize their grid and switch to residential solar.
RATE INCREASES ARE COMING
When it comes to going solar, money is often the strongest motivator, and $30 billion in outstanding liabilities is no small sum to cover. But who is going to foot the bill?
A recent article by Bloomberg reports that ratepayers who don’t generate their own electricity will eventually be the ones stuck with PG&E’s tab, getting charged a higher monthly cost for power.
“A 15% rate increase would raise an extra $1.9 billion (for PG&E), enough to fund a $20 billion 5 yr amortizing bond at 4.5 percent,” Liam Denning of Bloomberg states. “That would cover much of the immediate liabilities pertaining to previous wildfires…”
What that hike would look like for the average Californian is about $17 more a month, or a power bill that’s around $127. Paying that much for power would give PG&E’s service territory the dubious honor as being one of the three most expensive in the country.
By switching to solar, not only will homeowners get the cost benefits of the federal government’s 30% tax credit before it expires at the end of this year, but they’ll be able to avoid having to pay for a company’s mistakes.
MASSIVE WILDFIRES ARE THE NEW NORM
Climate change isn’t some distant boogie-man lurking in the near future — it’s here now, and has made devastating wildfires the norm, and not some freak event.
In 2018 California wildfires burned 1.6 million acres and killed 100 people.
In 2017 PG&E reported 1,552 equipment related fires according to an article by the Los Angeles Times.
But PG&E is not alone in the blame.
California’s other utility companies are responsible for igniting thousands of fires over the past three years, costing property loss and lives, and incurring billions in fines from state regulators.
With nearly 300,000 miles of power lines to inspect, both state legislators and utility companies are struggling to maintain a centralized grid in the face of chronic wildfires.
While short term solutions include using drones and AI to monitor more power lines than the human cost permits, the long term solution is clear — a more flexible, decentralized grid.
In the optimistic scenario where California meets its 2045 zero-carbon goals, there will be an increased demand for residential solar supplies. Now with annual fires quite literally lighting a fire under legislators to pick up the pace, coupled with Trump’s tariffs on solar panels, there will soon be a more limited supply of affordable equipment, driving the cost of home solar up in the very near future.
NETFLIX & CHILL WHILE OTHERS ARE STUCK IN THE DARK
With hundreds of thousands of utility lines to inspect costing billions of dollars, and billions in regulatory fines incurred and those most definitely to come, utility companies do have a way of cutting down the amount of wildfires their equipment causes — power outages.
Using advance meteorological weather monitoring and prediction systems, utility companies are increasingly more inclined to cut the power to a given area when high winds threaten to bring down lines.
If you own a house without the ability to generate its own power, this wildfire prevention solution isn’t in your favor.
“This year, lawmakers in Sacramento are raising questions about wildfire prevention and electrical safety oversight, and are considering new legislation to address the issues,” Taryn Luna reported for the Los Angeles Times.
Being more proactive with oversights and fines that compel utility companies cut power to at risk areas will mean power outages will be getting more and more common for residents reliant entirely on the grid.
However, California homeowners that have solar and an energy storage solution will still be able to keep the lights on.
If there’s a silver lining in the news of increased wildfires, rate hikes, and power outages, it’s that the cost of switching to solar has never been better. DIY and professional home solar installers and retailers such as Go Green Solar are a great to reach out to for expert tips, and industry information on how to reduce your power bill and keep your lights on even when the centralized grid is down.