(TNS) — Equipment owned by California's three largest utilities ignited more than 2,000 fires in three years — a timespan in which state regulators cited and fined the companies nine times for electrical safety violations.
How the state regulates utilities is under growing scrutiny following unprecedented wildfires suspected to have been caused by power line issues, blazes that have destroyed thousands of homes and killed dozens of people.
Lacking the manpower and sophisticated technology necessary to monitor more than 250,000 miles of power lines across the state, regulators rely on something of an honor system, with utilities responsible for ensuring all trees and vegetation are cut back far enough from electrical equipment before the onset of dry, high-fire danger conditions.
Destructive wildfires in Paradise, wine country, Ventura County and other areas have prompted California lawmakers to consider new ways to improve regulatory oversight and hold utilities more accountable for prevention.
The California Public Utilities Commission has never fined an electrical utility company for failing to meet safety standards before a wildfire strikes. Instead, the agency fines the utilities for violations after investigations into fires find wrongdoing — and the process can drag on for years.