California is plagued by unreliable access to electric power, a situation that will persist for years to come. It’s happening as part of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), one component of the wildfire prevention plans implemented by electric utilities and approved by regulatory commissioners appointed by the governor. During periods of significant wildfire threat, the utility with equipment in those high-risk areas shuts off the power to avoid starting a wildfire. The plan has been in place for years and implemented hundreds of times over the past decade. It is about as popular as you would imagine. If you’re wondering who or what to blame, California offers many targets.
Assignment of blame, of course, is divided along political lines. Liberals blame climate change, a failure to live sustainably, and unscrupulous corporations. Conservatives take aim at the California Public Utilities Commission, the Governor, and a housing crisis that resulted in home construction in high risk fire areas. One sided arguments fed by confirmation bias belie an important truth – there is no one political party or company to blame. The scariest part – we’ll actually all have to work together to solve a complex problem. And it’s going to take decades. Can we do it?
Wildfire prevention has not been a priority. Activities that remove fuel, such as logging or animal grazing, help prevent wildfires. Logging was made more difficult in California. California law made it impossible to remove wood from state forests that was not already dead and on the ground. Air quality laws in California all but stopped prescribed burns and other treatment measures designed to remove fuel. Finally, several invasive species and diseases killed millions of trees and added to the fuel load. In many forest areas, grazing animals were banned and native species that graze have not recovered to levels that adequately manage grass and brush growth in the forests.
Other actions made management of fires more difficult and the damages they cause more severe. Road building clears vegetation and creates fire breaks while providing access to firefighters. President Clinton all but banned road building in US Forests in the 1990s, President Bush restored it 15 years later, and President Obama stopped it less than 5 years later. While fuel accumulated in the forest and road building ceased, a growing housing crisis drove new home construction in the wildfire-urban interface. Homes were constructed that did not follow state rules on building materials, fire breaks, and other fire related design criteria. And with that, the stage was set – forests full of fuel and private property nearby. All that’s needed is an ignition source.
In the tinderbox that is California, there are many possible ignition sources. Just ask Glenn Kile. In July 2018, Mr. Kile noticed a wasp nest underground in his backyard. He was allergic to wasps, so he hammered a metal stake into the ground to keep the wasps from surfacing. Sparks from his hammering ignited the largest wildfire in state history.
Sparks from power lines can also ignite a fire. Cal Fire (the state firefighting agency) investigators said the Camp Fire, the deadliest (86 killed) wildfire in California history and the costliest natural disaster in the world in 2018 ($16.5 billion in damages), was started by a Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) power line failure. While power lines cause a small amount (less than 5 percent) of the 50,000-plus wildfires started each year in the US, many severe fires are caused by power lines. The reason is that severe fires and damaged power lines often share a common cause – high wind speeds. High winds can damage power structures and can also rapidly spread wildfires, making them more difficult to manage.
Maintaining power infrastructure, and the vegetation around that infrastructure, is critical to preventing fire and is the responsibility of electric utilities. As was the case with other stakeholders, wildfire prevention was not a priority of utilities or the regulatory bodies that oversee them. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) repeatedly cut funding to electrical distribution improvements and tree trimming budgets, in the name of keeping rates affordable, and higher priorities like decarbonization. The CPUC also failed to immediately ensure all electric utilities implemented a wildfire mitigation plan even after it became clear that power lines posed a threat to public safety.
At the same time that regulators chose to prioritize other activities, electric utilities like PG&E were mired in distractions created by others (state mandates for renewables, electric vehicles) and of their own volition (pipeline explosions, bankruptcy filings). Already hamstrung by reduced budgets for vegetation management, PG&E served a customer base which increasingly fought them on tree removal. Using California tree laws, customers could take PG&E to court over a single yard tree. While negotiations to trim/remove trees stalled, PG&E would simply skip the tree and move to another property.
With every stakeholder distracted by other priorities, wildfires raged on with an increasing frequency and intensity. From 1980-1999, wildfires burned an average of 3 million acres in the U.S. each year. Over the next 20 years, that burn rate more than doubled to 6.5 million acres per year. The damage from these fires can be severe, especially with more than 2 million homes built in areas with high or extreme fire risk, mostly in the last 20 years.
The delayed response from all stakeholders has now turned into an urgent, all-of-the-above approach to preventing wildfires. Utilities, facing financial destruction from wildfire liabilities, plan to accelerate replacement of aging equipment and adopt new technology, among other measures. Elements of the plan, already in progress, include, but are not limited to:
- Increased weather monitoring to improve the ability to forecast conditions that result in fires and manage equipment appropriately.
- Increased frequency of all inspections of distribution poles and transmission structures, including ground, drone, helicopter and climbing methods.
- Increased vegetation management, including quadrupling tree removal year over year with a priority placed on removal of dead, drying or otherwise high-risk trees in extreme risk areas.
- Hardening of the electrical system, including replacing wooden poles with more resilient, fire-resistant poles, replacing open conductors with covered conductors to minimize sparking, and undergrounding power lines.
- An increase in switches in the system, so that fewer people will have to face a planned power outage, if the line starts in an area where fire probability is low.
Even with an all-out effort by utilities to prevent fires, power will be shut off as a last resort. How often should we expect utilities to resort to this measure? A lot. Since 2013, San Diego Gas & Electric shut off power 216 times for public safety reasons.
Power shut offs aren’t the only measure under consideration. Virtually every stakeholder, from individual citizens to state government, are taking action – some of them dramatic:
- Governor Brown, on his last day in office, signed two forestry bills making it easier to log state forest lands and to build and maintain roads in those areas. The second bill removed requirements to follow California air quality rules when doing planned burns to remove fuel from forest floors and create areas with no fuel to stop fires.
- Governor Newsom issued an Emergency Proclamation that directs Cal Fireto increase vegetation management activity. Historically CAL FIRE planned to treat some 400,000 acres but only treated about 30,000 acres.
- Governor Newsom signed 18 bills to boost housing construction. It’s not just that there is a wildfire crisis in California, it’s that so many people live in wildfire zones. Construction is needed in order to provide housing choice.
- The California Public Utility Commission sped up work on General Order (GO) 95 that includes fire hardening the electric grid with 23 new recommendations finishing work that started years earlier with a final ruling in 2017. Further work is underway to improve GO-95.
- Facing a decade of intermittent darkness, individuals will take matters into their own hands and increasingly look to maintain their quality of life during power shutoffs. Already the leading state for rooftop solar, interest in self-generating power is soaring following the PSPS epidemic, as customer inquiries into rooftop solar and storage have reportedly doubled in recent months.
- With rooftop solar plus storage coming in at $40,000 per typical home, down from the 2016 NREL estimate of $51,000, we can also expect to see sales for diesel generators ($400-$1,100) or backup generators ($7,000-$16,000) soar. Local suppliers have reported customer inquiries increased more than 1,000% in recent months.
Those measures, some of them extreme, highlight the scope of the problem. Many of the measures require a decade or more for implementation. Sweeping changes are coming. Meanwhile to save lives, it will be dark in California every time there is a high risk of wildfire.
Corey Tyree is a Senior Policy Advisor for the Energy Institute of Alabama. Tyree is also a Senior Director of Energy and Environment with Southern Research. He directs a team of engineers, scientists, and technicians focused on innovative technology solutions for clean energy, air and water.
Opinion | State Sen. Will Barfoot should be highly commended
State Senator Will Barfoot should be highly commended, for sponsoring Senate Bill 105, in which military families, require school districts, operating magnet schools, to accept enrollment applications, for military children, where families have received transfer orders, to Alabama military installations.
Additionally, Sen. Barfoot (R) Pike Road is sponsoring Senate Bill 106, called the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, formation of charter schools, on or near military installations, with focus on serving military dependents, authorized. Tenure for certificated teachers temporarily serving in charter schools are preserved.
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, recently correctly stated that his goal is to “make Alabama the most military-friendly state, in the country.”
Over one year ago, former President and Commander of Air University, Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, advised the public, that 56 percent of students attending the Air War College, were not bringing their families; due to a poorly performing local school system, that was under intervention, and take over status. Mandatory, federal laws, state that adequate, and sufficient education must be provided, to kids of military families, by the Local Education Agency, which is, the Montgomery Public School System.
Gov. Kay Ivey drafted, an outstanding tentative education initiative package, of ideas, by reaching out to Lt. Gen. Cotton, to ask the families at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, to provide their list of wanted items. The Governor’s directives to her staff, were very clear; provide the families at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, with everything, they put, on their list.
The governor also ensured, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford were notified. Emergency education funding was requested. Additionally, the acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan, and the Chief of Staff Air Force Gen. David Goldfein were contacted.
Through Gov. Ivey reaching out to Lt. Gen. Cotton, the education committees were formed; with successful results. Currently, the military children at Maxwell-Gunter, are attending schools out of district, in counties such as Elmore, Autauga, and Pike Road City Schools, regardless if they live on base, or off base. Families living at the family camp; within recreational vehicles, may enroll their kids, in the on-base school. Faculty, professors and instructor kids, may enroll out of district.
It is critical that SB-105, and SB 106 pass, successfully, through the House and Senate. Additionally, Gov. Ivey, Lt. Gov Ainsworth and Sen. Barfoot, are exactly right; on their current direction, and their proper and correct road, being travelled, due to the following reasons.
Today, the Montgomery Public School system, is still under intervention, and this education system, is not moving forward. Other military bases in Alabama, are facing similar situations, in which the Local Education Agencies, are not providing, adequate and sufficient education, outside the military base gates.
The on-base Maxwell-Gunter Elementary and Middle School, and its principal Mr. Paul Hernandez, have been deemed, Top-Notch School, and Top Principal, over recent years according to the Department of Defense Education Activity Americas.
I taught at Maxwell-Gunter, for two years, and I never had to send, one student to the office. The Parent Teacher Association at Maxwell-Gunter, is the best on the planet. I thought the parents were teachers. They are in the schools, from sun up, to sun down, helping to mold, and shape our next generation of airmen, wingmen, astronauts, scientists, doctors and future Air Force Academy cadets.
Many military parents, in private, are very concerned, their kids have the options, and opportunities to attend the very best schools, not the worst schools. Parents do not want their kids in unsafe environments, nor in class rooms, where the students are cursing at the teachers daily.
Over the years our Air Force Secretaries, Colonels and Generals, have spoiled us, by providing, the best of everything. Education is taken very seriously, within our military services. Our Air Force, and our Space Force, can’t remain number one, throughout the world, without the best education, top training, most effective hardware, and fastest software systems.
At this juncture, the only adequate, safe and sufficient schools, that I see in Montgomery, are a few of the magnet schools, private schools, or home schooling. A new Military Magnet school on the military base, or near the base, would be awesome.
I would also highly suggest, that the appropriate standards, of the Military Magnet schools, be set at the same high standards, and the current top cultures, of the Department of Defense Education Activity for K-12. Due to their proven excellence in education, and their top-notch academic advancements. Many students at Maxwell-Gunter, are highly performing, and virtually mastering, robotics in grades, 6 through 8.
Therefore, we should commend, Gov. Ivey, Lt. Gov. Ainsworth, and Sen. Barfoot; and support them in their efforts, in making our state the most military friendly in the nation. Their initiatives, will provide, much needed assistance, not only for Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, but for all military installations in Alabama. Our ultimate goal is to attract military families to our Great State, and retain the current military families—not run them away.
This one, we must get right. Other states would Love to have our military families. Our state leaders are making sure, that we do everything, in our power to keep them. We can’t let other states, out work us, nor out hustle us, through their better education and training systems.
Just as a matter of information, in working with Gov. Ivey, in an unofficial capacity over the years. A lot of top Department of Defense officials, and top Air Force and Space Force leaders, along with local Air Force leadership, such as Lt. Gen. Cotton, and 42nd ABW Commander Col. Patrick Carley; have been very gracious, in supporting Maxwell-Gunter families, and our regional communities, to ensure that we continue to have the best education, and training systems.
Our top Department of Defense, civilian and military leaders; and our Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, Chief of Staff Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, have always, had our Six, and we have always, had their Six. There is absolutely, no doubt about that!
Glenn Henry is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He has been a high school teacher and university adjunct professor. He has earned numerous IT Cisco certifications. He is a Certified Professional Ethical Hacker. He lives in Montgomery with his wife Teresa.
Opinion | The workforce superhighway—stay clear of malfunction junction
As you merge onto the Workforce Superhighway in search of that dream career, don’t venture into dead ends or get lost at malfunction junction. Instead, look for signs directing you to AlabamaWorks!
There are several ways to enter the workforce superhighway and get on the right path. On-ramps include the Alabama Department of Labor’s Career Center System with offices placed strategically in 50 locations, or via one of Alabama’s Community Colleges that are conveniently located across the state. Many will enter the workforce highway via one of the seven regional workforce councils representing Alabama’s seven workforce regions. While others will enter through one of Alabama’s existing employers through work-based learning initiatives, such as the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship.
The great news is that there are thousands of job openings in all sectors of Alabama’s economy including aviation, forestry, chemical, automotive, bio-medical and information technology. Alabama companies are paying premium wages for employees with a positive attitude, good work ethic and the appropriate skill sets. AlabamaWorks! provides a roadmap to these great jobs and it’s just two clicks away. (www.alabamaworks.com)
Remember when career resource programs were siloed, loaded with government acronyms and frankly, not user friendly? In those days, to the unexperienced eye, all workforce roads led to nowhere. Even harder to understand were the state and federal programs which were designed to help, and yet always seemed to be just out of reach. It was as if one road led to another road, which led to another, and eventually people careened off the highway at malfunction junction.
To help untangle the malfunction junction, Gov. Kay Ivey announced her Success Plus plan mandating that Alabama’s workforce programs work together to help citizens find credentials of value that will lead to a self-sustaining career. The goal: 500,000 additional credentialed workers in the workforce by 2025. To succeed, workforce agencies are working towards becoming more user friendly, untying the complicated knots and cross-training staff on multiple programs. Therefore, when a citizen enters from any on-ramp on to the workforce highway, they will find that there are no detours or road blocks. Rather, they will find friendly and helpful workforce professionals ready to assist.
Credentials may be earned as a student completes their K-12 education, during college or as an apprentice. The credential may also be an occupational license or industry recognized certification needed as a job requirement, or to advance to the next level. There are thousands of potential credentials available, and they can be stacked, sequenced and aligned in a progression of increasing skill to assist Alabamians as they travel the workforce superhighway.
Now that you are successfully navigating the superhighway, how do you know what a credential of value is and if it is legitimate? Gov. Ivey has appointed a group of professionals though the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways (ACCCP) to make sure the credentials available in Alabama are truly of value. When you successfully attain your credential of value, then what? You want to make sure your credential is added to the Alabama College and Career Exploration Tool (ACCET) being created for you to market your workforce profile online where employers are looking for employees with credentials. The ACCET is a digital resume that helps you find employers and employers find you. The ACCET is currently under development and will be available in the fall of 2020.
The workforce superhighway has many intersections and AlabamaWorks! is the ever-evolving road map. This one-stop online workforce resource will turn malfunction junction into a distant memory. Happy motoring and stop by anytime, www.alabamaworks.com is open 24-7.
Ed Castile, Deputy Secretary of Commerce
Workforce Development Division, Director of AIDT
Opinion | The New Way Forward Act is an assault on our borders
A clear warning of how far to the extreme left the Democratic Party has moved is the recently introduced New Way Forward Act. This immigration bill would totally uproot the rule of law, provide amnesty for illegals here, and import dangerous criminals into the United States. By allowing foreign citizens who committed serious felonies to stay in our country, all Americans would be at risk. And by granting new rights to illegal aliens, the New Way Forward Act would prevent our immigration officials from detaining most illegal immigrants. Shockingly, over forty of my Democrat colleagues in the House have cosponsored this legislation.
We have long known that many on the far left have the goal of global open borders. They do not appreciate that to keep our country prosperous and strong we must have real, enforceable borders. Put another way, our country won’t be any different from the rest of the world if we eliminate our borders and let whoever wants here to enter.
Simply put, the New Way Forward Act aims to decriminalize illegal immigration altogether. It would turn us into a sanctuary nation where anyone who desires entry can come in almost unchallenged. It grants new rights to illegal border crossers that would effectively shut down our already overworked immigration courts. For example, those detained for illegally entering would be entitled to an initial custody hearing within 48 hours, and detainees would be entitled to a new bond hearing every 60 days. This is designed by the bill’s authors to be impossible!
The bill also includes provisions to block local law enforcement from performing immigration enforcement activities. Why would we not want our law enforcement to actually enforce our laws? Isn’t that what they are for? This explains a lot of what some of my more liberal colleagues in Washington think about law and order.
Perhaps most shockingly, the New Way Forward Act removes certain felonies from consideration when considering whether detainees should be allowed entry to our country. Why would we want to protect convicted felons from being deported? This legislation would roll out a welcome mat for them. The bill would even repeal laws that make illegal entry into the United States a crime. Can you imagine the chaos this would bring?
This bill has one goal – open borders. That’s why Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says this bill would “gut the rule of law” in the country.
I have been to our southern border. I’ve seen firsthand the challenges facing our border patrol agents. Without question, gutting our immigration laws would make their jobs tougher. It would erode American safety and incentivize illegal immigration. Yet Democrats overwhelmingly support sanctuary city laws that allow jurisdictions to refuse to enforce our immigration laws. These sanctuary jurisdictions go further by stonewalling federal officials seeking to enforce our immigration laws. But it gets even worse. States like California have passed laws to grant driver licenses to illegal immigrants. Shockingly, these laws could even automatically register illegal immigrants granted driver licenses the right to vote in elections!
Last week I signed on as an original cosponsor of the Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act. The premise of this bill is simple: if you are a sanctuary city blocking the enforcement of our federal immigration laws, you should be blocked from receiving federal money. This bill would prevent states that issue driver licenses to illegal aliens from receiving important federal grants.
Unfortunately, common sense is something lacking in Washington. I’m proud to be able to serve you by bringing Alabama values to the swamp. I’ll continue working with President Trump to fight bills like the New Way Forward Act and to ensure our immigration policies serve and protect you, the American people.
Opinion | We cannot allow Alabama to fall behind our neighbors
As the Birmingham region enters a new decade, it is more important than ever in our increasingly connected world that Alabama’s largest city be equipped with modern wireless infrastructure that provides connectivity that powers opportunities for businesses and residents alike.
That is why the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) supports standardization of small cell deployment statewide – enhancing connectivity today as well as supporting 5G and technologies of the future.
Connectivity is a key issue in creating and sustaining a 21st century economy and workforce, connecting both urban and rural areas to enhanced broadband opportunities. Ongoing advancements in wireless broadband technologies are necessary to keep pace with consumer demand and are crucial to our state’s continued economic success. Without the ability to economically deploy the latest in wireless broadband infrastructure, we put at risk our ability to effectively compete in a digital economy.
The BBA has long supported increased access to broadband technology across the Birmingham region and the state of Alabama through our annual state and federal legislative agendas. Our support is reflected in our 2020 state legislative agenda, which lists this issue as a priority and specifically supports streamlining and standardizing the permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and services, allowing wireless companies limited access to public Rights of Way for the deployment of small cells and establishing permit fee limitations for localities.
We join with key community organizations like the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce in supporting statewide legislation that simply standardizes the permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and services, including broadband; allows entities providing wireless services, subject to existing applicable constitutional provisions, access to Rights of Way for the deployment of small cell equipment; and establishes permit fee guidelines for localities, allowing them to recover reasonable compensation while still encouraging broadband investment.
Small cell deployment is one way to ensure Birmingham and Alabama’s wireless infrastructure remains competitive, allowing both businesses and residents to thrive. More than half of U.S. states have already passed legislation that welcomes investment and removes barriers to deploying wireless infrastructure.
This new decade and the ones after it will require us to be connected to ensure the best for the Birmingham region’s businesses and its residents. Supporting small cell deployment is key as we look towards the future, continually making sure that, as the world becomes more and more connected, we in Birmingham and in Alabama do the same.
We encourage state legislators to support this effort so we as a region and as a state can stay competitive in an ever-changing world.
Alabama lawmakers advance bill banning transgender athletes in K-12 sports
Legislation may harm pets locked in hot cars, not help, vets and advocates say
Senate Committee approves medical marijuana bill
Opinion | Alabama close to allowing hot dogs to be rescued
Opponents accuse Tuberville of supporting amnesty for undocumented immigrants
House Judiciary Committee passes bail reform law named for Aniah Blanchard
Republicans criticize Jones over his “stupid question” response to a constituent
Hasdorff calls for “out-of-touch” Mike Bloomberg to visit an Alabama Farm
Ivey seizes gaming issue
Ivey urges legislators to address prison system problems
Gov. Kay Ivey’s 2020 State of the State Address
Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming
Private prison company eyes Elmore County land for one of state’s new prisons
Opinion | Deception, subtlety and the wholesale destruction of current ethics laws mark proposed rewrite
Developer Tim James proposes privately-funded toll road as “catalyst for economic growth”
Alabama Democratic Conference endorses Michael Bloomberg for president
Josh Moon2 days ago
How Alabama’s government stays broken
Guest Columnists4 days ago
Opinion | “Just Mercy” and Justice do not exist in Alabama
Legislature4 days ago
Ophthalmologists concerned over questionable Senate Health Committee vote
Education2 days ago
Alabama voters will decide whether to fire the state school board