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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/2/19

How to end PG&E-induced forest fires

Author 512948
Message Lew Weingarth

After hearing all the speculation about and finger pointing directed at PG&E, I need to comment. Most people don't know much about power, but it's been a major focus of mine for years.

Since nobody likes wordy diatribes, let me present facts in bullet form.

· There are calls to make PG&E public owned

· At one time, almost all electric utilities were public owned. Why did they change?

· Many reasons, the one I supported was if we privatized electricity, it would spell the end of nuclear power, with was being pushed by regulated utilities with vague promises "we can deal with the waste products, somehow, some day".

· It's ridiculous to treat radioactive waste that has a lifetime MANY TIMES RECORDED HISTORY like used Kleenex. I'm not necessarily opposed to nuclear power, but figuring out how to make the wastes PERMANENTLY safe, and THOROUGH testing of the process, should be required BEFORE any discussion of building it.

· Regulated utilities make profits, but are regulated, so profit takes the form of adding some percentage on top of operating cost.

· Nuclear power was irresistible to regulated utilities because in some cases it allowed them to TRIPLE the cost of electricity, and their profits.

· Privatization changes the incentives. Rather than have to increase cost to increase profits, the incentive becomes efficiency. Unfortunately, bean counters like most CEOs think this means DECREASING cost. As any maintenance person knows, maintenance doesn't cost money; it saves money. Do you change oil in your car to get rid of excess cash? Apparently, CEOs do, but that's another discussion.

· Line maintenance is a cost a regulated utility can simply pass along to customers, but they can also add a profit on top, so the incentive is good maintenance.

· Private utilities can deduct maintenance, but at best that's 25% off the top, and very few utilities pay taxes anyway, so it's not worth anything. To CEOs who don't know maintenance INCREASES profits, it's a cost to eliminate. Remember, cost-cutting often sends 50% to the CEO bonus THAT YEAR.

· Today, I read an article by a spokesperson for private utilities. He said they are shedding nuclear and coal as fast as they can and switching 100% to renewables, not to be clean, not to be green; to INCREASE PROFITS.

· What is the REAL problem with PG&E? Simple, a power line fails and starts a forest fire. Remember, the results are not the cause. Now that we know the problem, let's look at solutions.

· PG&E apparently has ignored maintenance for years, and is now blacking out areas to cut limbs away from lines. That's fine, and needed, but stone age and reduces, but doesn't solve, the real problem - fires starting when a line fails.

· Today, we have protective relays that can monitor the electrical waveform on lines IN USE, detect when a tree branch nears, and shut down before contact. The idea is remove power before enough power flows into something that can burn to ignite it. This isn't fantasy; protective relays can monitor all waveforms a million times a second. Forget waiting for an overload to heat up some breaker; we can open the breaker as the wind blows the power line close enough that the tree limb just starts to distort the waveform, and have it completely dead by the time they touch. In most cases, we can detect and open the breaker in 1/5th of a second.

· Today, we have high-speed contactors that can open and isolate power on the line BEFORE ENOUGH ENERGY FLOWS TO START A FIRE. OK, a line falling in a refinery can spark, but that's why refineries don't have overhead lines.

· In summary, we can eliminate 99% of fires simply by adding protective relays and fast breakers along the lines. No need to bury lines and no need to even trim trees, though lack of trimming would mean fire-preventing blackouts whenever the wind blows.

· If we make PG&E a public utility, or fire all the officers, that still won't prevent fires if we don't improve line protection.

· I'm not saying leave PG&E private, nor make it public. I'd have to see a lot of data to make that call; certainly nobody can make that because of fires. We want to fix the problem, but punishing the stockholders of PG&E won't fix anything and likely will make things worse.

· So, in conclusion, let's pass these laws

· Law 1: All utilities, public or private, must hire a 3rd party to review and comment on fire safety. We then give the utility a period to comment, implement, or refute the findings.

· Law 2: If a fire is started and shown to be a result of any company officer cutting maintenance or not implementing or maintaining modern protection, the CEO is immediately arrested and prosecuted. Sounds harsh, but his bonus is killing people, so let's get him interested to learn this stuff.

I don't think we need to change utility ownership. We certainly should if it saves money, but we can and should implement the same safety requirements regardless.

 

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Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering with MBA training in international business. 35 years working all over the world. Expert in power plants, energy, oil. I have been to about 150 countries total, spent at least a week in about 110, (more...)
 

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How to end PG&E-induced forest fires

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5 people are discussing this page, with 19 comments


shad williams

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  New Content

It is good to hear expert opinion from the industry.

I would add another caveat regarding nuclear power generating facilities, they should also be guaranteed to never melt down or release radioactivity as long as they are in existence.

In terms of ownership, they should be publicly owned. The record is clear: the capitalist eventually end up crapping on every sensible enterprise, capturing the regulatory monitoring and enforcement foundations and pushing costly externalities into the future where the public is begged to pick up the tab.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 2, 2019 at 10:16:42 AM

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Lew Weingarth

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Reply to shad williams:   New Content

I agree, but we largely already have that and so far it's not worked well. The plant builders and owners simply lie and unfortunately taxpayers like us two are angry enough to send each other messages, but not enough to go physically throw them out (which we are seeing with an entire political party right now). US taxpayers are forced to clean up the mess when, not if, we find out that guarantee is worthless. While in MANY cases the government can run things better than private investors, I disagree that it's always true. Military nuclear facilities are government run and have WORSE safety records than private facilities. I just think it's not possible to make them safe, not until we have electronic matter transfer and can "beam" the wastes into space with Star Trek tech. Let's look at history. The head of the NRC famously said in the 1950s that "Nuclear power will be 100% safe and too cheap to meter". He was right, but he was talking about Thorium, not Uranium or Plutonium, both of which he warned could NOT BE MADE SAFE. If you don't know, Thorium is naturally hot enough all we have to do is very basic processing, akin to your mom brushing dirt from your pants before letting you inside as a kid, except we don't need to scold the Thorium. Thorium waste has the same lifetime as a human, so we don't have to lie to ourselves that we can safely manage it for millions of years. The reason the nuclear industry went to uranium and plutonium was you can't make bombs from Thorium. Anyway, there is lots of evidence from hundreds of nuclear incidents that NOBODY can make it safe, so let's get rid of it because every incident makes MASSIVE areas uninhabitable almost forever. Having said that, I do believe fusion power should be the main source of power. We have a highly efficient 386,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 watt fusion reactor with billions of years of fuel that has been stable for billions of years and is FREE - the sun. Oh, right, it's free, nobody can profit, so there is no bribery money for politicians, so we will be arguing over coal and nuclear for another century.


Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 2, 2019 at 11:35:09 AM

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Lew Weingarth

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  New Content

Reading a professional journal today sheds another light on this topic.

To summarize the article, Power Companies are dumping nuclear and coal as fast as they can, and going 100% renewable. We all know that for several decades, renewables have been cheaper than fossil fuels, which in turn are far cheaper than nuclear, so why the change now?

Technology - anyone surprised? Basically, the change is the ability to control distributed solar cells and wind generators FROM THE UTILITY END. This allows a final goal of power generation distributed all over the place, with the utility simply directing the power where needed. Power lines become two way highways rather than a pipeline.

With regards to power line fires, this is HUGE. First, being able to generate power at or near customers reduces the amount of power the lines have to carry whenever the sun shines or wind blows. Adding storage locally and a display of WTF is going on in every home would allow [perhaps reduced] operation if lines have to be powered down, rather than blackouts, and would reduce phone calls to the utility asking WTF.

Even if we just upgraded every community to include local storage, which can be done RIGHT NOW but wasn't possible a short time back, we could monitor power lines and switch them off and on as needed without remote customers even noticing.

This isn't cheap to install, but it's POSSIBLE to install. Once we have a solution, all that lacks is finding the nerve to leave our comfort zone.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 2, 2019 at 1:04:11 PM

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Alexander Kershaw

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Reply to Lew Weingarth:   New Content

When utilities were deregulated in CA, PG&E and SoCal Edison asked for and got "stranded investment" compensation because their already built nuclear reactors could not produce power competitively. Ratepayer publicly owned utilities only built one nulear reactor, Rancho Seco. The ratepayers who owned SMUD voted to absorb the already spent investment on building the plant to save money over the long term. No other publicly owned utility built nuclear.

There have been no planned power outages in LAPW or SMUD territory. You are right the technology to create electricity and distribute it is well known. A microgram run by worker and ratepayer owned utility would be more reliable, safer, and cheaper. Let us turn PG&E and all privately held utilities into publicly held utilities.

The nuclear waste that already exists can be disposed. Encapsulate it in corrosion resistant containers shaped like screws. Drop them into deep ocean sediment. The containers will screw themselves into the sediment which is a mostly oxygen free environment. Even if they happen to leak the clay like sediment will hold the waste inert. Over time the sediment will bury the waste deeper and tectonic movements will eventually subduct the waste into the mantel No need to monitor. The problem is that it is no longer a life time revenue stream financed by taxpayers that would provide profits for corporations.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 2, 2019 at 11:52:25 PM

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Lew Weingarth

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Reply to Alexander Kershaw:   New Content

Good points. I worked with/for/on the Ocean Drilling program for 12 years. From that experience, I know all about techtonics, in fact we deepened the mohole multiple times. Just dropping them on the sea floor won't work, since some cracks spread, others lift, but dropping them in a subduction zone would actually suck them under in a few thousand years. The problem is keeping track of that area for thousands of years. Remember waste has TWO radiation hazards. First, it's radioactive. Second, even after decay back to the original mineral level, it's still concentrated and more dangerous than ore scattered in a rock matrix. As for existing nuclear plants, one thing I've learned is it's like trying to make your ugly pig pretty - you will spend more on lipstick than just accepting you screwed up - and have a pig roast. One failure while we manage expensive plants more than pays to decommission them all. Besides, most governments on earth run deficits KNOWING it will be paid off with smaller currency, so borrow now and save money. The west coast is now seeing radiation from Fukushima Daiichi, which means radioactive crabs from Busan to Seattle. My wife and I are trying to locate what most people call a geiger counter that can measure all the various forms of radiation in "wild caught" seafood. Maybe just turn off the lights and see if it glows.........

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 1:07:07 AM

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shad williams

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Execution and monitoring are major issues. The execution should require Plan B and C with considerations for current management capabilities to mitigate the ut ohs. Introduction of this material into a biome that is already stressed violates the rights of that environment. Perhaps economic capital punishment of the offensive enterprise with the proceeds rolled over into a long term financial trust to mitigate the physical issues as they arise could work...until the market collapses...

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 4:43:57 AM

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Lew Weingarth

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Reply to shad williams:   New Content

Love your response. The last sentence made me laugh. My wife and I discuss this all the time. The only reason society has any problems is government allows leaders who go cross-eyed at all multisyllabic words and take bribes from industry to hand over control so they can get back to their crayons and coloring books.


In other words, as long as uninformed dummies continue to allow corrupt uninformed dummies to take over our government, we are screwed! For proof, compare the near genius IQ presidents Carter, the Clinton team and the Obama team to vacuous presidents Reagan, Bush Sr, Cheney, and Trump. Reagan was by far the smartest of that group, but average IQ at BEST, and clearly suffering dementia when thrown out as California's governor, yet almost 15% of Americans STILL voted for him.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 12:26:33 PM

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Janet Supriano

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Reply to shad williams:   New Content

Year ago I asked an attorney, 'Why?' If corporations are deemed to be persons, capital punishment is not administered when they are guilty of murder.

He didn't have an answer.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 3:16:21 PM

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Lew Weingarth

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

I forget who said this but I read a famous quote that stated "I will support citizenship for corporations when one is sent to the gallows". The "gallows" part was because the quote comes from the late 1800s, soon after the corrupt SCOTUS created law out of thin air to make corporations citizens (which is actually SPECIFICALLY denied in the US Constitution). We patriots need to support MOVE TO AMEND (movetoamend.com) in their proposed Amendment, which simply says "Corporations are not people and money isn't speech". Remember the corrupt SCOTUS created law out of thin air by allowing US rich people to LEGALLY purchase politicians in 1976, then extended it to US corporations in 1978, then allowed foreign people, corps, and governments to buy in 2010. The last is technically illegal but what they did is allow politicians to keep their owners secret, which is functionally the same as inviting foreign money. Today, 100% of the Repugs and over half the Dems are owned by foreign and US donors and only consider what their owners want.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 5:34:05 PM

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Janet Supriano

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Reply to Lew Weingarth:   New Content

Actually, your linear account of the progress of corruption renders me speechless. And believe me, that doesn't happen too often.

I will check this out myself, but I'm thinking Move to Amend has been around for a long time, since the onset of Citizens United.

What's happened to this nation is illegal and unconstitutional. What's the hold up?

It gets really hard to keep rooting for the team than NEVER wins. And I'm too old to coach.

BTW, thank you for the utility information. Freakin' Rothschild crooks! My electricity is under SMUD, but gas is PG&E. I live in the Sacramento, CA area and happen to be one of those theorists that believe the burning of California is by design.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 8:51:12 PM

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Lew Weingarth

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

Thom Hartmann has already done the research. I'm pretty sure he's posted a bunch of research on alternet, here, and other places. Anyway you can goodle Thom Hartmann and Justice Powell and Buckley v Vallejo 1976 (legalized bribery) and US v (maybe First Capitol I don't remember but it was a bank) 1978 (legalized corporate bribery) and US v Citizens United 2010 (legalized secret spending). These conclusions may not be obvious reading the decisions, OK I'm one of those people who actually READS decisions, I even read the Mueller Report. Or, just order Thom's new book "The Hidden History of the Supreme Court" which was just released and explains everything in detail. "The Brethren" by Bob Woodward is also excellent but published in 1979, lots of corruption under the bridge since then. I have a hard copy which I could send to you, at my other house 900 miles away. I'm heading there in a week. If you want it and I haven't passed it on yet, I'd be glad to send it. Never mind postage, if you have something m/l equivalent we could trade, or not. My opinion about the SCOTUS is we should get rid of it entirely. Several other countries did just that, when they couldn't figure out how to prevent corruption. I love this old photo. m5.static.flickr.com/4043/4295117449_61cebba7cf_o.jpg

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 9:27:21 PM

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Janet Supriano

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Reply to Lew Weingarth:   New Content

Thank you for your generous offer, but I'll decline. I'm buried in books yet to be read, incl. a few by Thom. But I will see what's online. (yeh, I'm an online info addict)

I remember years ago on one of his shows on Free Speech TV, Thom ran through the timeline of how the rules of Corporate Charters had changed over the years. It was a visual presentation of how the wording had devolved. Certainly eye-opening for me.

The photo you linked is another eye-opener. Wish we were rich and could buy billboards and put this kinds stuff out across the country.

In what ways would we possibly miss the SCOTUS if it were abolished? Laughable, huh?

The US isn't interested in following the lead of any other nations; we just blow them up.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 11:38:06 PM

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Lew Weingarth

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

I think we need at least 6 more political parties. Why? We are all just tall children. Ever watch children play? If 5 kids want to play, but can't decide on tag or hide and seek, they vote. Say 3 want to play tag and 2 want to hide. Fine, first they play tag, and then they hide. Nobody loses unless mom leans out and yells "LUNCH". Winner takes all politics in a population that doesn't vote excludes most of the population. Politics in countries that have proportional representation work the same as children playing, you have to assemble a diverse team to win, then you have to let them all play. Due to Fox Fake News and RWHR, right now roughly 21% of Americans are terrified cowards and WANT Nazis. Another 21% are totally confident in the good of all people and want Che Guevara, and everyone else is in the middle, mostly center-right. While I can't stand Nazis, I believe the best way to handle them is let them on the stage where they can work with others and learn that we are ALL screwed up and there's no reason to be terrified of women, blacks, educated people, education, gays, etc. I'd like to see politicians FORCED to listen to the Green Party and the Gay Party and the Black Party and the Nazis and the Socialists and ALL points of view. I've worked in 150 countries and heard pretty much every possible point of view and they ALL have SOMETHING right. Many of my relatives in Florida are terrified Nazis, and while their conclusions are based on lies and mostly ludicrous, some of the PROBLEMS they are terrified of are real, just not caused by the people they fear. We need them on the stage or they will multiply cowardice. I support maximum diversity, and that must include the cowardly Nazis. In 1990, I was working for a French company. They sent orders that we should try to only hire people as different from the rest of our team as possible. We had lots of pushback - they won't fit in - they won't agree, etc. However, in practice we found that as diversity grew, so did performance and profits. My take was that the main value of diversity was that it's more likely someone on the team has solved whatever problem arises. We also had someone who knew the local cuisine no matter where we worked.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 4, 2019 at 10:48:30 AM

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nelswight

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Reply to Lew Weingarth:   New Content

Great SCOTUS pic, esp. "pubic hair' and 'viagra'

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 5, 2019 at 12:55:07 PM

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nelswight

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Reply to nelswight:   New Content

lew. was just reading your reply to Janet and re-reading your bio. It came to

me that you may have crossed paths with my niece and her husband's

company re:securitry/safety/nuclear and refinery installations all over world -

Kristin and Duncan Smith, now out of Houston. Fair weather today - rain.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 5, 2019 at 1:52:00 PM

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Lew Weingarth

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Reply to nelswight:   New Content

Possibly, but Houston as the same population as Norway, and I'm terrible with names. I tried to convince all the nieces and nephews to tattoo their kids names on their foreheads to help me out, but for some reason they all laughed at me Fine, then do what George Foreman did, name them all George..............


Actually, while I lived in Houston, I spent more time in Norway and various parts of Asia, South America, and Africa than Houston. One constant argument I had with upper management was they wanted me around to answer questions but all the problems I was tasked to solve were in other countries. Fortunately, the executives traveled as much as I did so they didn't really get mad, just annoyed. Me too, I wasn't traveling 300 days a year for fun.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 5, 2019 at 2:49:21 PM

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shad williams

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

It's because you and I weren't sitting on the SCOTUS.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 6:44:34 PM

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Janet Supriano

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Reply to shad williams:   New Content

Shad, if you and I were on the SCOTUS, America would be The Beautiful again.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 8:52:18 PM

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Lew Weingarth

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

You both get my vote, oh wait, those positions are sold, not elected.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 3, 2019 at 9:30:38 PM

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