Wildfires and the Grid

Wildfires are huge problem in California. Maybe we can learn from those on the other end of the Pacific.

California and Australia are 8000 miles apart, but it turns out they have similar wildfire problems.  And in both cases, the electric grid and climate change are part of the equation.  The problems in California and the rest of the West are familiar to many readers. Though they don’t necessarily get much attention in the U.S., Australia has had some horrendous fires, with blackouts as one consequences. The Black Summer fires  burned over 30 million acres of land, causing 34 deaths directly and another 400 from the effects of smoke. There were blackouts and parts of the national grid had to be disconnected.

Rosemary Lyster, an Australian environmental scholar, and I explore the approaches of the two jurisdiction in a forthcoming article. A comparison of the two cases is illuminating because California and Australia have very different regulatory philosophies. Until very recently, Australia’s government was never able to get its act together in terms of climate change. It takes a Texas-like approach to electricity regulation, with the free market as the icon.

In some ways, Australia has done better than California, with much less of a problem in terms of grid-originated fires. But it has focused on grid resilience narrowly, whereas California has embedded the wildfire risk to the grid within its overall climate adaptation strategy.  Australia has also done more to incorporate wildfire risks into land use planning. California has imposed adaptation planning requirements as a requirement when utilities seek rate increases, which guarantees that utilities take it seriously. That wouldn’t work in Australia, since the government doesn’t supervise utility rates.

There’s definitely room for both jurisdictions to learn from each other. This case study also points up an important gap in energy law scholarship in the US, which tends to overlook the value of learning from regulatory systems outside our borders. Climate change is a global issue, and we all have things to learn from each other as we seek to respond.


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Reader Comments

5 Replies to “Wildfires and the Grid”

  1. Dan, wildfires are a most hellacious threat to us, along with many other environmental threats that produce climate catastrophes, but we must also focus on and overcome a root cause of our currrently out of control destruction.

    The Power of Money destroys civlizations, it has in the past and shall again because the human brain is miswired to enable that failure mode today as much as it ever has been, and with our new scientific advancements we can destroy ourselves faster and greater than ever before, especially with fossil fuel endenturement of all human institutions:

    World still ‘on brink of climate catastrophe’ after Cop27 deal

    “The world still stands “on the brink of climate catastrophe” after the deal reached at the Cop27 UN climate summit on Sunday, and the biggest economies must make fresh commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, climate experts and campaigners have warned. —- the outcome was widely judged a failure on efforts to cut carbon dioxide, after oil-producing countries and high emitters weakened and removed key commitments on greenhouse gases and phasing out fossil fuels.”


    Events in 2022 have proven that people assume our political and intellectual institutions will protect us from climate catastrophe and that is just not happening, not even with the United Nations. And we keep proving that the Power of Money is one of the gravest threats to the survival of human race, God Help our newest generations.

    1. “UN climate boss settles for no cuts on emissions” by Seth Borenstein

      “The massive presence of oil and gas interests at the COP undermines the integrity of the UN climate process and could be slowly eroding its legitimacy,” Hare said. “The suspected influence of petrol states and oil and gas lobbyists on the Egyptian presidency Is unhealthy to say the least.”


      Thus the Power of Money won, and the human race lost at COP 27.

      What do we do now Dan, especially since we shall most likely blow past 1.5C like we did “350 of Bust”?

      How does Cal explain this to students who shall most likely suffer the consequences of “Greenwashing” that has already destroyed the credibility of the UN.

    2. Dan, now that the UN has failed to protect the human race from Global Warming, there is one Final Exam left to pass to save the human race from ourselves.

      If academics, being as you claim the “Purest” humans on the planet, cannot pass the test to produce and immediatly implement solutions to save us from Global Warming, then God Help Our Newest Generations.

      The test has already begun. and you are most truly our Last Resort.

  2. Gosh, a glaring omission in most climate and environmental discussions is global population- once again Legal Planet stays right in line.

  3. An important difference is that Australia has embraced distributed energy resources (DER) that reduce and eliminate the need for grid lines in rural areas. South Australia is now able to supply 100% of its loads on sunny days with renewables. In California, installing microgrids using DERs are a fraction of the cost of undergrounding lines. https://mcubedecon.com/2022/03/15/a-cheaper-wildfire-mitigation-solution-using-microgrids-instead-of-undergrounding/

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more