The PG&E Blackouts: The Light Inside The Dark

The PG&E blackouts have shook things up here on the west coast. With few details millions of Californians were left contemplating a potential new norm. Living without power.

It’s something we contend with now. It’s unprecedented and quite frankly unconscionable.

I say this not as an entitled person who demands the luxuries only electricity can provide such as hot showers, a night light, warm water to wash your dishes, outlets to charge devices and so and so on. Not in this particular order, but these are some of the hot button items for me when it comes to power.

I gripe because in the 21st century an age old discovery should not present issue as it has begun to here across the bay area.

Supermarkets were out of ice and generators were the hottest commodity and still are. They are on backorder.

In every direction of the bay area I knew someone who was without power for several days. My parents in particular had no power for five straight days.

So when push comes to shove I’m a pretty selfless person. The bigger issue for me was them not I. They are on a well and eventually the well ran dry and while no power was difficult adding no water to that mix made it unbearable.

And perhaps there is a level of excess here because I know there are parts of the world with no water. I think it is human nature to expect what you are used to so from that standpoint I come from a base level of humanness and not knowing how to go without a critical essential that is relied upon day in and day out.

And the conditioning of always having had it and expecting it to be there adds a layer of helplessness that always having to go without would elude. You learn to come up with a system and make it work. Whether you have to walk miles to get clean water or whether it is dispensed from the comfort of your home. You figure it out. And when your well runs dry you figure that out. No comparison to anyone else or someone walking miles to get their water. Cannot compare their struggle to my opportunity to put my devices aside and take a moment for me.

Two alternate universes. I use it as a reference point about learning to live with what you have and what you don’t have as a part of the human condition. It’s our nature.

Either way we become accustomed to our realities. When our foundation is rocked and the ground shakes beneath us we are shook.

And while there is a deeper issue here with PG&E that needs to be further investigated, it’s no secret the privately owned for profit public utility company is crumbling from the inside out. I take this up because quite frankly this is the issue. It’s the egregious way by how they have handled their affairs and how it clearly did not do its job all of these years. It is a utility company that is contracted by the state to provide a service in a safe manner. So misusing money by making the rich execs at the top richer and not really thinking about the customers who depend on them every single day.

And tadah! Disastrous outcomes become the order of the day.

Having filed bankruptcy. Clear mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. The company was clearly in the dark on ethics for years before they cut the lights. Multi-Million dollar bonuses for the white collar execs at the top and zero disregard for the public it was to serve.

Zero maintenance of its equipment all of these years has lead to multiple horrors at the hands of this giant with a monopoly that has to be fought to win back. Governor Newsom is hot under the collar over this one and I appreciate his passion and persistence in putting heat on PG&E when it went cold with a notion of rolling blackouts.

This was our second round in two weeks. And with even greater audaciousness they have threatened 10 years of it. That’ll never happen though it is a scary thought. They are upside down far beyond recovery so their ten year plan is going to fall way short. As soon as legal protections are over from their current proceedings in bankruptcy court they’ll be forced to pass on to the baton to the state or someone who knows how to manage a public utility for its people. Apparently plans are in the works already for restructuring.

They control most of the power Northern Californians receive. Not all, but a great majority of it. In numbers that works out to 16 million of the nearly 40 million people in California relying on a corrupt private entity to give them power.

Instead of ensuring public safety all along they handed out dough and didn’t fix the faulty lines and transformers. (See dilapidated equipment here.) Downed lines and transformers blowing up along with several gas line eruptions over the years has not only resulted in the loss of life, many, but has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages across its coverage area.

While we all were hearing rumblings of a corrupt corporation when word first came out of its bankruptcy filing no one had any idea the further catastrophic efforts it would take to cover itself. Meaning they would resort to mandatory blackouts on customers to “ensure safety”, they coined it a PSPS for Public Safety Power Shutoff, but really it was to “ensure” they would not be sued if more shaky power lines fell down starting a fire or blowing up yet another transformer.

It all started when meterologists had predicted windstorms so with little notice and even fewer details PG&E sent out vague recorded messages to people on speed dial. Leaving customers with more questions than answers. We were forewarned nonetheless.

Apocalyptic to be controlled like that. It was eerie and gravely problematic for hundreds of thousands of people.

And then in a matter of a day or two we were in the dark.

And while the first part of this story entails more of my frustrations with the utility giant the beauty of their corrupt mismanagement and extreme measures of leaving us in the dark gave us light.

And by this I mean we were forced inward, intensely and immensely for some of us. What do you do when you lose your power for days and days? You figure it out and you find ways to make it work.

You sit in silence more because there is no computer to log into. You converse with those around you in the dark perhaps even by candlelight because it’s all you can do.

And really it’s an incredible thing. Offering up opportunity to catch up. Laugh. Joke and be merry cause there was not a thing in the world you could do about it.

And the last thing you want to do in the dark is be negative. That’s a double dose of no fun. Negativity + No power = Trouble.

So by candlelight we sat. I sat alone by candlelight a couple of nights. We got to laugh about PG&E and consider how lucky we are to have power at all ever. How we should be so grateful for it and so many other things? And how we take things for granted. We don’t spend a lot of time being grateful for power, but you know what they say…..


And sure I got out to some establishments that had power, but eventually you have to come home.

And I prefer home these days so back in my abode it was dark. So what do you do to bring light? You sit in silence. And you allow it to take you. You get nestled into the idea of no external stimuli. No devices. No night light. Few sounds. And for those few days that seemed they could not end quick enough, there was an element of the blackout that brought us light.

A different kind of light that was not chosen but forced upon us to do what we would with it.

How do you pass the time? You look for the light inside the dark.

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Sue Dhillon is an Indian American writer, journalist, and trainer.