Although far from a murder in a small southern town in Georgia, the soulful ballad of a man done wrong and hung for his troubles is appropriate for the misery and angst associated with the recent de-energizing shutoffs of the electric grid. Just as Vicki Lawrence’s 1973 hit song, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, written by Bobby Russell, describes an injustice as the result of questionable characters, so too are residents of California communities affected by the actions of dubious management and oversight. The widespread effects of neglect and a static organization is becoming obvious. Those given the responsibility to oversee and regulate this basic utility have also failed their mandate.
Lax internal and external supervision can be investigated in hindsight, but typically such efforts, while useful to reduce or eliminate future events, cannot undo damage already done. While blame for the need for shutdowns cannot be laid solely at the feet of our utilities, it is unquestionably their responsibility to alert the rest of us about long term problems lurking in the future. Effects of climate change are also at the forefront of the current crisis. Even a cursory examination of contemporary natural catastrophes gives ample evidence of the effects of global warming. Those who choose to deny problems with past and current policies leading to inexorable changes occurring to our planet may, however, agree that the existing cycle of violent and destructive weather patterns is troubling.
Local and regional responses are heartening. The movement toward sustainable and less invasive methods of energy production is a welcome reply to the challenge. For example, Fremont’s microgrid technology at some local firehouse facilities assures continuation of response capabilities even when faced with “Public Safety Power Shutoff” actions. Our communities are bringing local control over energy sources through the East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), a not-for-profit public agency. All Greater Tri-City communities within Alameda County have now joined this effort [Newark just voted to offer EBCE to its citizens], allowing users to select a plan from three “clean power” sources. Although this does not alter the use of PG&E transmission lines that have been the source of shutdowns and fire hazards, it is a step in the right direction.
There are additional major challenges ahead. Predicted sea level rise will alter our shorelines and affect development slated for low-lying areas. As the pressure for housing grows more intense, it will be incumbent on our local politicians to address climate changes to avoid long term problems. Public-private partnerships, boards and commissions such as the new Mobility Commission in Fremont can harness the ingenuity and talent of the private sector when seeking solutions for these problems. Hopefully, we will see more of these partnerships to face a future filled with significant challenges and equally significant opportunities.
Public and private creative and innovative community partnerships will result in a thriving and prosperous environment. With these efforts, the lights may go out in Georgia, but not here.