Friday, August 21, 2009

Pulling the Plug on SDG&E's Plan to Pull the Plug

I remember on my first trip to Sacramento, commenting to a colleague who had picked me up the airport, that the clusters of homes next to the freeway appeared to have fallen out of the sky-- there was nothing else around them. My colleague commented, "Yeah, they're built in the middle of a flood plain."

That didn't make a whole lot of sense then or now, but putting homes where nature never intended them to be is something of a California thing.

Several hundred miles to the south, the problem of home-creep is a hot one, not a wet one. Wildfire dangers to homeowners who live in fire-prone areas have demanded some out of the box solutions, like the one SDG&E has been pushing for some time now-- cutting power to homes in fire prone areas when fire danger is high.

It has been controversial, to say the least. The utility argues that it is the only responsible thing to do, and after the fires of 2007, it is hard to disagree with them.

Writing in the San Diego Union Tribune, Mike Gardner notes, "The utility company came up with the plan after being sued by insurers, homeowners and government agencies in the aftermath of three large fires in 2007 sparked by arcing power lines. SDG&E has paid out $740 million in settlements so far. "

But, the 55,000 potentially affected homeowners and other stakeholders are crying foul and they are playing every card in the book-- from arguing that shutting off electricity will endanger the lives of elderly or disabled residents, and potentially hinder firefighting efforts by rendering water pumps inoperable.

Yesterday the PUC threw in the shut-off plan's detractors, issuing a preliminary injunction against the plan, by a 3-2 vote. The plan's fate hangs in the balance next month when, on September 10, the commission takes up the measure for a final decision.

There are merits to both sides' positions, but the entire situation begs the larger question of whether we shouldn't be smarter about where we site and build homes.