California’s costliest and deadliest wildfire seasons were 2017 and 2018. This year, fire season is already underway and right now one of our only options for reducing wildfire risk is for utility companies like PG&E to turn off the power. This is our new normal because our 100 year-old electricity infrastructure is ill-equipped to cope with today’s extreme weather.
Our current electric grid is a century old and was not built for today’s users, technology or extreme weather. As we’ve seen, running high voltage wires to communities in wildfire-prone areas is a recipe for disaster. These lines sag and spark if they’re overcharged or if it’s too hot. PG&E has deferred maintenance and upgrades to mitigate these problems for years. They now estimate that they will need between $75 and $150 billion over several years in order to make the grid more secure. This cost, of course, will be passed onto customers in the form of “staggering rate hikes.”
From the conversations I have every day in our community, I hear firsthand how the continuing rate increases have changed people’s way of life. For many in this community, the costs are becoming unbearable. Two weeks ago I helped a friend sign up for a rooftop solar and battery system for his home. He told me he wanted to be prepared for any upcoming power outage, and that he was tired of unpredictable monthly bills. I’m glad that I was able to help him.
Several weeks ago, my family got an email from PG&E warning of potential blackouts. Because the grid is much less sophisticated than it should be, even people that aren’t threatened by wildfires will experience power outages, and Bakersfield is no exception. We’re some of the nearly 16 million people that could be out of power this summer, and it’s possible these outages could last as long as a week. Blackouts or wildfires is a choice that PG&E is forcing us to make, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
So what can we do? I grew up in Bakersfield, and I’ve been in charge of Sunrun’s office here for the last five years. After helping friends and neighbors install home solar and batteries, to me it’s clear that they have to be part of the solution to the PG&E imposed blackouts. For the first time, you can gain independence from the decisions made by PG&E. Sunrun’s Brightbox, a home battery system that is powered by solar panels on the roof, gives people the freedom and control they need over their electricity. With our system set up, during an outage you still have electricity during the day from your panels, and at night from your battery. If enough of our neighbors choose batteries, PG&E will have a lighter load to manage, and won’t have to transmit as much power, which helps reduce sagging and sparking. It’s a win win.
Last summer, 26 of July’s 31 days were over 100 degrees here. And the last five years were the top-5 warmest on record for this city. It’s always been hot here, that’s part of the reason I love it. But aside from the early 2000s, we’ve never had to worry about our power being off and our food spoiling. This is a new threat, and solar and batteries are a new solution to protect the homes here and across the state.
One option that I hear a lot of people talking about is buying a backup generator. Generators are expensive, loud and require continuous refueling, which is difficult if the power is out at gas stations. We have better technologies today than generators. Home batteries are clean, silent and affordable and Sunrun offers systems from zero down with a fixed monthly rate. Home solar and batteries offer our community peace of mind and energy security during power outages, and protection from PG&E’s next inevitable rate hike.
We’re going to continue to see record-breaking extreme weather in California and across the country. We shouldn’t wait around for PG&E to fix the electricity system when we can take control with home solar and batteries. The time for solar is now.
Joe Jimenez is the regional sales manager for Sunrun in Bakersfield, California. He was born and raised in Bakersfield and has run Sunrun’s Bakersfield office for five years. He can be reached at email@example.com.