This year’s fire season in California has started out with massive fires in Los Angeles and near San Francisco. PG&E’s aging transmission lines form a huge risk as failing equipment can potentially start wildfires as was the case last year. The Camp Fire in 2018 was started by a powerline that came down from a transmission tower after one of the hooks that hold up the lines broke. An article in the Wall Street Journal investigates the status of the PG&E towers and lines in California and uses drone footage to show the aging equipment.

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Aging PG&E transmission towers shown in drone footage

The campfire in 2018 was the result of a broken hook from one of the PG&E transmission towers. After the hook had failed, the powerline came down and sparked the fire, according to the company and state investigators. Once the fire took hold below the tower, strong winds whipped it up and it spread quickly towards Paradise, California.

The WSJ reports:

“The fire began underneath Tower 27/222. Whipped by strong winds, it raced toward Paradise, Calif., a town of 26,000 people. Eighty-five died. The fire destroyed 18,804 structures, more than the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.”

“Tower 27/222 is part of the Caribou-Palermo transmission line. The kind of threat it poses can be found across the state. PG&E operates more than 5,000 miles of high-voltage wires in California’s drought-stricken forests.”

Currently, PG&E operates about 40 hydroelectric facilities in California that were built before 1950. Many of the transmission towers are about the same age. The article in the Wall Street Journal includes a number of short drone shots that show you the rusty and aging state of the PG&E transmission towers and lines.

“Many lines and towers are hard to reach, making inspections and repairs difficult. When the Journal flew a drone over some of PG&E’s equipment near Paradise in August, many towers appeared rusty, showing their age.”

“PG&E acknowledges it has work to do. Since the Camp Fire, it has inspected all its towers, lines and substations. It identified 1,200 immediate safety risks and another 10,000 less urgent repairs, and is making fixes. It has also committed to sharing results of its inspections with state regulators and the public.”

To reduce the risk of accidentally starting wildfires, the utility company has shut off the power to millions of people in California. The company also disclosed that one of the powerlines had malfunctioned in Sonoma County right before the start of the Kincade Fire.

The red and purple zones in the map below show are risk areas.

You can read the entire WSJ article here [paywall].

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Photos and graphic credit: WSJ

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