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Electric Utilities, Formed Decades Ago, Struggle to Meet Climate Crisis


The phone call to the Eugene Water & Electric Board was startling. A group of homeowners, fearing a storm could knock down nearby power lines and ignite wildfires, was asking the Oregon utility to turn off their electricity.

“I about fell out of my chair,” said Rodney Price, the utility’s assistant general manager, of the people who were voluntarily asking to live in the dark in September, during one of the worst fire seasons Oregon had ever seen . It was a sign of growing angst, he said. “We’re seeing more and more widespread impacts of climate change. It’s clear it’s impacting how we do our business.”

Across the United States, power companies are scrambling to keep up with a barrage of extreme weather from a rapidly warming climate. In the West, that means trying to meet soaring demand for air-conditioning because of record heat, without sparking wildfires made more destructive because of record drought. A desperate tactic pioneered in California , utilities intentionally shutting off power lines to avoid starting fires, has now spread to Oregon and Nevada .

On Wednesday, California’s grid operator asked the state’s 39 million residents to conserve electricity or face rolling power outages, the sixth time […]

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