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Oregon wildfire ruling highlights risks facing utilities in climate change

Portland, Oregon. – A jury verdict that Oregon power companies are responsible for devastating wildfires and potentially billions of dollars in damages if they didn’t take proper precautions in hotter, drier weather It highlights the legal and financial risks borne by power companies in Japan.

Utilities, especially in the western United States, are increasingly finding themselves in financial trouble, partly to blame, experts say. Renewing, replacing, or even burying thousands of miles of power lines is a time-consuming and expensive task, and the failure to begin in earnest years ago has increased the destructive power of wildfires. , has been outnumbered amid litigation over electrical installations. Sparks swelled.

“How are they going to pay for that and at the same time upgrade their grids at a pace that avoids the need for constant power outages?” Firm Advising on Climate Risk Management Josh Hacker, chief scientific officer at Jupiter Intelligence, said of the damages lawsuit: “This is a huge challenge.

Last week, an Oregon jury found that Pacific Corp inadvertently failed to cut off power to 600,000 customers during the Labor Day weekend storm despite warnings from fire officials, and that the company’s The court ruled that power lines were responsible for multiple fires.

Pacificcorp said it was disappointed with the jury’s decision and plans to appeal.

The fire was one of the worst natural disasters in Oregon history. They killed nine people, burned over 1,875 square miles (4,856 square kilometers), and destroyed over 5,000 homes and other structures. The total amount of damage is not yet known, but is expected to reach billions of dollars.

Because utilities make money from their customers, they often increase revenues for infrastructure upgrades by raising rates. In California, for example, Pacific Gas and Electric this year asked for about an 18% increase in rates for residential customers, partly to bury more than 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) of overhead power lines underground. a state fact sheet revealed. Public Utilities Commission. The commission that regulates utility rates said it plans to make a final decision on the request between July and September.

PG&E’s planned upgrade comes amid heightened scrutiny of its utility, which serves more than 16 million people across 70,000 square miles (181,300 square kilometers) of central and northern California. Faced with billions of dollars in damage from multiple fires, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2019, shortly after an abandoned facility caught fire in 2018, effectively wiping out the town of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Campfires were the deadliest and most destructive. Fires in California history.

PG&E’s bankruptcy settlement with wildfire victims was a staggering $13.5 billion. Victims were only paid half in cash, the other half in PG&E stock, which has since depreciated.

Pacificcorp, meanwhile, said it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrading equipment and expanding its weather stations and weather modeling since the 2020 Labor Day fires in Oregon. But customers are also helping fund these investments. Oregon’s Public Utilities Commission has approved a rate increase for Pacificcorp in 2023, intended to help it cover “non-energy costs” such as wildfire mitigation and vegetation management.

The revenue models of utilities, and the way some companies have settled previous wildfire lawsuits, raise questions about the extent to which these companies are truly held accountable for their role in the wildfires. I have a question.

“Where does public safety and overall system durability lie among the priorities of a primarily for-profit enterprise? That’s the big question at issue here,” said UC Davis. said Scott McNutt, an adjunct lecturer in bankruptcy law at .

Utilities, on the other hand, argue that the increased risk of wildfires to public safety is caused by factors beyond their control, such as climate change and population growth at the border between wilderness and city (where development encroaches on natural areas). ing.

“These systemic problems affect the entire state of Oregon and are larger than any single utility,” Pacificcorp said in a statement earlier this week after a jury handed down one of its verdicts.

Some experts agree to some extent, saying that strengthening the grid is just one of many important steps to take to protect people and their homes from wildfires.

“Utilities should always strive to mitigate potential fire risks,” said Michael Gorner, an associate professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. “But we also want to ensure that when a fire does occur, it does not cause death or destruction.”

Gorner said changing the materials used to build homes is one way communities can protect themselves from wildfires. Building a flame-retardant roof of asphalt or tile instead of wood, covering vents with fine mesh to keep out embers, and using non-combustible siding can all help prevent a house from burning down. Helpful. It’s also important to create a so-called “defensive space” around your home, a buffer zone with little vegetation that slows down the spread of fire. Regular burning and thinning of fuel in the forest are equally important, he said.

“We have not taken more comprehensive measures to strengthen our communities to avoid inviting fires,” he said. “We don’t do other difficult jobs.”

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/business/2023/06/19/verdict-in-oregon-wildfires-case-highlights-risks-utilities-face-amid-climate-change/ Oregon wildfire ruling highlights risks facing utilities in climate change

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