We woke up this morning with no electricity on the farm. The powers that be at PGE in their infinite wisdom shut the lights off just after midnight. For Terra Firma, that means our coolers and irrigation pumps are not running today — and for possibly several days.
There is no Recipe this week, we apologize for the inconvenience.
You’ve probably already heard that PGE was planning on shutting power to hundreds of thousands of people today due to a forecast of extreme fire weather — the kind of low humidity and high wind speed that caused the terrible fires in Napa and Sonoma in 2017 and the horrific Camp Fire last year in Paradise.
As farmers, we know all about planning around the weather. For example, we saw the forecast for wind this week and changed our harvest schedule to make sure to get all the wind-sensitive crops picked by the end of the day yesterday. What we did not do was cancel all our CSA box deliveries in anticipation of a predicted weather event.
PGE didn’t make their decision to shut power down to our farm based on actual conditions. When the power went off at midnight, it was calm, cool and moist. At dawn it was still calm, and 63 degrees. You could say there was zero risk of a fire starting.
Meanwhile, just one mile away, in downtown Winters, the power stayed on. The hardware store and bank are open, the coffee shop and breakfast joint are serving drinks and food.
To put this in a little more perspective, all of the land around us for miles is irrigated agriculture with very low risk of a large fire. However, if a small fire did start now, we would not be able to put it out — that’s because all of our water comes from wells and canals that require electricity.
We are getting lucky this week because the weather looks to remain on the chilly side. That means our idled coolers should stay cold enough for a day or two to prevent any produce from spoiling. If it were 100 degrees instead, we would be looking at an enormous loss. In a future where PGE shuts our power off any time that strong, dry winds are predicted, we would likely have to invest in a generator costing many tens of thousands of dollars.
Weather forecasting remains a frustratingly inaccurate science, especially when it comes to specific concerns like wind speed, precipitation amounts and exact temperatures. Farmers know that the only really accurate weather forecaster is the famous Luke Autavindo. If anyone is going to decide to shut power off to tens of thousands of Californians, I believe it should be state and local governments who will consider the true cost of such a decision. Not a monopoly energy utility trying to protect itself at the expense of its customers.