January 06, 2021

Changing Climate, Changing Utilities: Extreme Weather, Wildfires, Technology, and the Electric Grid

Ellen Howard Kutzer and Erin Overturf

Electric utilities are facing new challenges in the United States. Here in the West, we are beginning to experience the direct impacts of climate change, through extreme weather, droughts, reduced snowpack, and wildfires. A hotter, drier climate intensifies wildfire risk and severity. Electric utility infrastructure—like high-voltage transmission lines—have always posed fire risks, but those risks are now much greater than when those facilities were initially constructed. This has led utilities to commence preventative emergency disconnection of electricity service as a tool to mitigate the risk of utility infrastructure sparking deadly and devastating wildfires. These interruptions in service, while reducing wildfire risk, also pose significant hardship on broad populations of utility customers who depend on reliable access to electricity.

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