The Environmental Committee works to protect the watershed and to educate the public on forestry issues, erosion control, hazardous waste, recycling, and other issues. We also monitor government policies and procedures.
PG&E is a high priority for the Environmental Committee due to its massive and destructive felling of trees to prevent wildfires when unsafe, unreliable, antiquated equipment is the fundamental cause of the fires. From working on legislation and a new Franchise Agreement for PG&E in the County to in-depth research and analysis to support work with agencies affecting PG&E and helping folks protect their trees from PG&E’s contractors, this keeps the group busy. We work with a State-wide Utility Wildfire Prevention Taskforce on these issues.
Your help is needed.
Visit https://endpowerlinefires.com for more information.
River & Road Clean Up
with Save Our Shores
Annual Environmental Town Hall
Felton Community Hall
First Saturday of the month
Second Saturday if the first Saturday is a holiday weekend.
10:30 am at VWC Office at Highlands Park Senior Center
On Zoom and in-person. Email for Zoom info.
Meetings are open to the public.
Call 338-6578 or email for information.
Here’s the situation: PG&E fells hundreds of thousands of trees every year in a failed attempt to prevent wildfires. PG&E cuts power without notice, endangering residents and communities rather than focusing on the real problem of its unreliable, outdated, and dangerous power lines. These bare-wire lines ignite fires, whether impacted by vegetation, wildlife, vehicle collisions, flying debris, wires sagging in extreme heat, or even party balloons.
What can stop utility-caused wildfires is a rapid, comprehensive modernization of their electrical equipment, with reinforced, triple-insulated wires, fire-resistant poles, and computerized circuit breakers that relay a problem’s location for fast response. Southern California Edison (SCE) has successfully done this for its high fire threat service area. But PG&E continues to push the idea that trees cause fires and continues its wholesale tree felling. Our forests are a critical natural resource. We can’t afford to lose millions of trees to utility overreach.
PG&E’s redefinition of “Hazard” trees expanded its “Enhanced Vegetation Management” (EVM) program to remove trees far outside its right of way. Now, any tree within ‘strike distance’ of the lines is threatened. PG&E contractors are currently cutting thousands of healthy, mature trees (including old-growth redwoods, incense cedars and oaks) in other forested counties. Property owners have no recourse to stop this. The result is massive environmental destruction, increased fuel load, and loss of property value. PG&E’s only real tool for preventing utility-triggered fires is shutting down the power, first with Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), and now with “Fast Trip” Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS), shutting off power without warning and often for hours, which has hit us hard locally.
Is undergrounding power lines the solution? NO. PG&E’s costs for undergrounding distribution lines are insupportable, and undergrounding is not the panacea it is presented to be. Keep in mind that undergrounding isn’t feasible in many areas, including granite terrain, across ravines and waterways, and in areas of severe erosion or potential for flooding. PG&E's proposals to underground “10,000 miles” are a stunt to distract and impress us – and PG&E’s CEO Patti Poppe claims it’s affordable, but permanent rate increases will mount as additional miles are installed.
The first rate increase, averaging $30/month, will fund only 3,500 of the touted 10,000 miles. Worse, the planned undergrounding would take far too many years before significantly impacting wildfires — a decade, even if PG&E’s optimistic estimates can be trusted. Meantime, we remain vulnerable to failing wires causing fires and are faced with never-ending power outages wreaking havoc with our lives, businesses, and health.
The absurdity of cutting down millions of trees in the coming months and years is being ignored in a time of intensifying climate change. Due to changing weather patterns, we’re experiencing increasingly severe winds, drought, and heat. Locally, loss of shade means our homes and neighborhoods will heat up, and removing our trees damages critical ecosystems, wildlife habitat, and watersheds. We’ve already seen a perceptible rise in summer temperatures in neighborhoods with heavy tree loss from the 2020 CZU fire.
While PG&E’s undergrounding would curb utility-associated wildfires, huge equipment trenching through the forest will destroy thousands of trees and potentially worsen erosion and slope instability. Thankfully, it’s not the only way. Replacing and modernizing above-ground equipment, which we’ve sought to have PG&E implement, is working well in areas serviced by Southern California Edison. This provides equal safety for about 25% of the cost. Plus, new equipment can be rapidly installed with the least environmental damage.
PG&E is making piecemeal improvements, such as replacing old power poles in the San Lorenzo Valley, while not replacing the unsafe, bare-wire lines. We need a complete approach now. Urge your State Assemblymember, Mark Stone (and his replacement in November), and your State Senator, John Laird, to write legislation mandating comprehensive modernization, end EVM and focus on legally required trimming. Complain to the CPUC to stop approving any PG&E rate increases for undergrounding and instead press PG&E to modernize its system. Ask our Supervisors to take action with other counties to prevent EVM and ensure a safe and reliable system.
Nancy Macy, Boulder Creek, 831-338-6578
Chair, Valley Women’s Club Environmental Committee for the San Lorenzo Valley, www.valleywomensclub.org
Chair, Utility Wildfire Prevention Taskforce, www.endpowerlinefires.org