For PG&E, cutting power could prevent fires and save lives — and costs

Maggie Leavitt loves living in the mountainous backcountry of San Diego County. She could do, however, without the blackouts.

Particularly when her local utility company cuts the power on purpose.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. shuts down its power lines when weather conditions pose a high risk of starting or spreading a wildfire. The practice began after the utility’s lines, blasted by a 2007 windstorm, sparked three fires that together killed two people, destroyed more than 1,300 homes and cost SDG&E more than $2 billion.

Although the company calls shutting off power a last resort, it happens often enough that Leavitt, the retired manager of the county Resource Conservation District, keeps a spreadsheet. In December, for example, her Descanso ranch lost electricity on 10 days, including one five-day stretch.

Leavitt has a generator. But for those who don’t, she said, a blackout isn’t just a question of losing lights.

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