• FT opinion piece predicts outrage at Californian power utilities will ward off talented new staff, making situation worse

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

Photo by Rahul from Pexels

An opinion piece in the Financial Times by John Dizard has reflected on the longer-term impacts of the recent Californian blackouts that were scheduled by Pacific Gas and Electric Company and other utilities to reduce the risk of forest fires. After Californian politicians initially supported the planned blackouts, outraged reactions from some members of the public produced a change in view from politicians, who called for PGEC to pay a form of compensation to customers. As the piece puts it, “courtroom lawyers, climate activists and political candidates, enjoy screams of anger and shouted denunciations,” but the “class of engineers and would-be public servants who could actually plan and build a safe reliable grid do not.” Essentially, the public view of PGEC will mean that fewer engineers and administrators will want to work for the company, preferring to work in companies not subject to such outrage. This is coupled with a shift away from utilities by talented individuals that had been occurring anyway, lured by the prospect of higher salaries working in the information technology sector, or in finance. As Dizard writes, “there has been an increasing crisis of competence in the major power institutions,” and this, coupled by the fallout from the recent blackouts, will mean that California as a state will now struggle to attract the talent to achieve its goal of rapid decarbonisation of electricity production.

Meanwhile, PGEC’s decision to cut off power appears to have been justified, but perhaps not wide-reaching enough. Although at the time of writing it was too early to be definite about cause and effect, the company announced that a new wildfire in California was detected just seven minutes after a working nearby power line was damaged.