Will Climate Destroy the Utility Industry?

Will Climate Destroy the Utility Industry?

Fear of climate change caused by CO2 emissions can destroy all of America’s electric utilities.

The first casualty could be PG&E in California.

PG&E is being charged with causing multiple fires including the deadly Camp Fire in Northern California.

One fire was supposedly caused by a fallen transformer while another was reportedly caused by a transmission line that broke away from a transmission tower.

The fact is, any energized electric wire will spark when it touches anything that’s grounded, and if that object is flammable the object will likely catch fire.

Location of wildfires in California

With that said, let’s examine utility construction practices for over a hundred years with respect to transmission and distribution lines, circuit breakers, cutouts, transformers, regulators, reclosers and substations.

All of these components are normally energized. The higher the voltage, the greater the power of any spark or arc created when a component comes in contact with the ground or in a short circuit.

Transmission lines are uninsulated since they use the surrounding air to provide the necessary strike distances that prevent short circuits or grounding.

Transformers, reclosers, and circuit breakers, and equipment located in substations have bushings that use porcelain or other materials to prevent shorting or grounding of the live wires that connect the transformer, etc., to the transmission or distribution lines. Squirrels and other animals and birds can bridge the space between the bushing’s terminal and ground, creating sparking and causing the transformer to fail. The bushing’s petticoats also create the surface distance, known as creep, between the live terminal connecting the interior of the transformer with transmission or distribution wires, and ground. If these surfaces become contaminated, such as with salt in areas near the ocean or dust in industrial areas, the electricity can creep over the contaminated surface creating an arc when the live wire connected to the bushing becomes grounded.

Cutouts, a type of fuse, will disconnect lines that become shorted, but the spark ejects from the cutout like a large firecracker. Since the cutout is usually fifteen or more feet above ground, the spark, akin to the exhaust from a small rocket, doesn’t normally cause any damage.

Transmission lines are normally above ground, mounted on towers high above the ground. Distribution lines are also mostly mounted on telephone poles, except in some residential areas where the lines are underground. 

Substations can catch fire.

Aerial views of the Substation Fire near The Dalles, Oregon. Courtesy KGW8.

The above is a short list of traditional construction practices and the components involved.

All of these components and lines are susceptible to high winds, heavy rains, and flooding. Hurricanes, nor-easters, ice storms, Santa Anna winds, thunderstorms, and tornadoes can all cause damage to utility systems. Damage can include fallen lines and broken telephone poles with transformers lying on the ground.

Superstorm Sandy is an example.

PG&E may be charged with negligence in an effort to avoid linking the damage to climate change.

  • Perhaps wooden poles should be replaced with concrete poles. Perhaps the transmission and distribution lines should be de-energized when there is a storm, leaving people in the dark and without refrigeration for extended periods of time. 
  • Perhaps more trees should be trimmed? But how much trimming and tree removal will be enough? Energized wires whip around and can reach beyond the right of way. 
  • Perhaps transmission lines should be insulated. Huge numbers of components along transmission and distributions lines can’t be tested for strength because of the lack of safe access, so maybe all components should be replaced every twenty years. 

But, it all comes down to climate change caused by CO2.

In other words, every electric utility is at high risk for storm created failures that can cause outages: And in instances where energized lines come in contact with flammable materials, fires.

If weather, including droughts, is no longer seen as an act of God, but rather the result of CO2 induced climate change, every electric utility will be liable for any storm caused damage.

Utilities will be a high-risk investment with unknown consequences. The government may have to take over the utility industry. Alternatively, a Federal insurance act, similar to the Price-Anderson Act for the nuclear industry, could be passed transferring all liabilities to the general public.

What has been accepted practice will no longer be allowed.

It may also not be possible to build a grid, no matter the cost, that is impervious to climate-induced weather, another reason for a government takeover.

The cost of trying to build a grid impervious to climate change will be huge: In trillions and trillions of dollars, making the cost of electricity extremely high.


If severe weather is attributable to climate change, every utility will be liable for direct and indirect damage caused by severe weather. 

Those are the facts we all must face as the extremists who promote CO2 induced climate change pursue litigation of the California wildfires.

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