Archive‎ > ‎

fingerpointinghasbegun-removed

posted Oct 11, 2017, 8:49 AM by Geoffrey Smith
As I write this, Sonoma County is entering into day 3 of what must be described as a horrific fire storm. Wind-driven flames are racing through neighborhoods, destroying thousands of structures including homes and businesses. We are in a living hell right now.

I am moved to think about how firestorms like this come about (this is not the first I assure you, and it won't be the last.) Having lived through the Cedar Fire in San Diego County in 2003, and many others including the 1964 fire right here in Santa Rosa -- I have learned that electricity and wind do not mix. Nearly all catastrophic fires (I know, I know, the Cedar Fire was sparked by a lost hunter who started a 'signal fire' in Cedar Creek) are started when high velocity winds tangle with high voltage power lines, causing electrical arcs and igniting vegetation.

Downed Power Pole
As the Mercury News reports in their October 10 'PGE Power Lines Linked to Wine Country Fires', the current fires appear to have been caused by such electrical power line failures. In fact, one of the first 911 calls to come in related to the Sunday October 8 high-wind event, was for a tree on fire caused by a power line, just two blocks from my home in downtown Santa Rosa's Junior College Neighborhood. Many, many more reports of electrical line fires soon followed, leaving us with the nightmare we are currently experiencing.

What to do? What to do?

As our severely wounded community rebuilds, it's time we re-think the centralized power and gas grid model that was adopted in the 19th century. Centralized electricity generation requires significant transmission and distribution networks. These power lines are highly vulnerable to compromise by natural events and human actions. Natural gas needs to be transmitted through high-pressure pipes, which can and do rupture. Have you noticed all of the broken gas lines that are burning in the videos of the now-destroyed neighborhoods that are a fixture on the news media?

The solutions are simple in concept, but complex in bureaucracy and cost:

1) Place all distribution power lines UNDERGROUND where they will be unaffected by wind
2) ELIMINATE all centralized energy production facilities such as coal, oil, hydro and nuclear power plants, and their associated transmission lines
3) Yes, ELIMINATE all utility scale wind and solar facilities in remote locations, typically pubic lands and former agricultural lands, and their associated transmission lines
4) FUEL SWITCH our heating, cooling and transportation systems from fossil fuel (natural gas, gasoline, diesel) to electricity
5) PRODUCE all of our electricity from LOCAL, DISTRIBUTED solar on parking lots, rooftops, railroad corridors -- produce the energy local to where it is used. No transmission lines needed
6) CONSERVE electricity through behavior modification, and technology such as the 'internet of things'
7) STORE our locally produced energy using battery storage, centrifugal, gravitational, and other means

Let's begin again.

Here comes the sun.

Geoffrey Smith
Solar Energy Program Coordinator
Center for Climate Protection

(photo: Downed power pole on Parker Hill Road, Fountaingrove neighborhood, Santa Rosa.  Mercury News)