Free workshops on energy efficiency for home and business

Energy Savings Solutions is a series of free educational workshops in Grass Valley starting this spring.

Offered will be cost-effective strategies for conserving energy and water at their home or business while still maintaining comfort.

In conjunction with the Grass Valley Energy Action Plan approved last fall, the aim of the workshop series is to educate and inspire community members to take action to reduce their energy consumption while saving money and benefiting the environment. Attendees will leave the workshop with practical, cost-effective strategies for conserving energy and water.

The events will be held on Wednesday, May 1, and Monday, June 3 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Grass Valley Courtyard Suites.

The workshops are taught by engineers and industry experts and will focus on three core areas of energy efficiency: water heating efficiency, building efficiency, and heating and cooling. The first workshop on water and energy efficiency will be led by Gary Klein, an energy conservation expert, who worked 25 years at the California Energy Commission.

His broad scope of knowledge includes regional water budgets and distribution on the macro-scale to plumbing and water heating on the building level. Another workshop leader is mechanical engineer Ray Darby, an expert in energy efficiency and solar energy, who has worked in the field since 1980 in many areas such as the construction of solar and energy efficient building installations.

In November 2018, Grass Valley approved the city Energy Action Plan. The plan includes an analysis of energy use within the city limits and the development of guidelines to advance energy conservation efforts and to promote renewable energy adoption in Grass Valley.

“The Energy Action Plan is a community-oriented, multi-year plan to reduce Grass Valley’s natural gas and electricity usage by 29 percent and 36 percent respectively, and will save the community over $10 million over the course of 15 years,” said Simone Cordery-Cotter, an AmeriCorps CivicSpark Climate Fellow at Sierra Business Council. Cordery-Cotter is one of the leading coordinators of the Energy Action Plan working group, a grassroots coalition of local businesses, non-profit organizations, and community members trying to raise awareness and to implement the plan.

Members include representatives from Sierra Business Council, the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Energy Group, Nevada City Climate Change Coalition, and Cal Solar Electric.

Energy Savings Solutions, a project led by Renata Langis, is one of the outcomes of this collaborative effort of community members, businesses, and industry experts. Shortly after the Action Plan was approved, Langis joined the working group and got inspired to organize public workshops to engage a larger audience in discussion and action about energy conservation.

For more information about the Energy Savings Solutions Series, please contact Renata Langis at 530-588-3220 or or visit the Facebook page.


WHAT: Free Energy Savings Solutions workshops

WHERE: Grass Valley Courtyard Suites, 210 North Auburn Street, Grass Valley

WHEN: 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 1 and June 3,

INFO: Please contact Renata Langis at 530-588-3220 or


Free workshops on energy efficiency for home and business, The Union, March 31, 2019.

Power companies want to dodge clean energy goals by counting in old dams

California power companies have an appealing but flawed argument with the state’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2045. They want existing dams that churn out carbon-free electricity to count toward that mark, making it easier and cheaper to meet their climate-friendly obligations.

A pending bill, SB386, sounds narrow and focused, but it’s not. It would allow the Modesto irrigation district that operates Don Pedro Dam astride the Tuolumne River to total the cranked out electricity toward its renewable energy quota. That exemption would mean less need to buy juice from solar, wind and other green sources and save money for ratepayers.

It’s a pitch that power companies have made for years but without success. Why? Because such an exemption would hamstring the growth of renewables in a state with the nation’s dirtiest air. Green sources need to expand, not stall out. A loophole for dam operators will chip away at the overall goal. Regulations also soften the financial pressure on power firms by limiting the expense of buying clean energy.

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Nevada City presentation: cutting carbon via the marketplace

A workshop on carbon pricing marketplace strategies will take place at 7 p.m. on May 16 in the Community Room of the Madelyn Helling Library in Nevada City. Donations are welcome. Scientists estimate that the world has around 12 years to get control of greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. We must curtail our use of the fossil fuels that are pervasive throughout our economy. Our choices appear stark — start paying now, or likely pay much more later in terms of health, safety and economic impact.

But increasing the cost of fossil fuels will impact the economy, so how can this cost impose the least burden to consumers? Ideas and opinions abound, and soon citizens will evaluate the political candidates and their platforms on the climate crisis to decide whose approach is most sensible.

This workshop explores carbon pricing marketplace strategies in place now and the results. Have greenhouse gases been reduced, and by how much? Has it had a negative or positive impact on taxpayers and the economy? What current legislative proposals might be effective in cutting carbon use?

Three guest speakers who are well-versed in climate-related topics will provide a fact-based overview of the existing California Cap and Trade system and British Columbia, Canada’s Fee and Dividend system. A U.S. proposal, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act introduced into Congress this year, will also be summarized.

Following the overview, the audience is encouraged to participate in a facilitated discussion on the material covered as well as other possible approaches.

Speakers will include:

Ray Darby, founder of the Sustainable Energy Group in Nevada County. He is an energy engineer who has worked over 10 years with the California Energy Commission as well as 30 years in private business on energy research and design, standards and installation of energy systems.

Renata Langis, a member of the Working Group supporting the City of Grass Valley’s Energy Action Plan (EAP). The group is a coalition of local businesses, nonprofit organizations, and community members helping to implement the Plan’s road map for accelerating energy efficiency, water efficiency, and renewable energy efforts. Current members include representatives from Sierra Business Council, the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Energy Group, Nevada City Climate Action Now, and Cal Solar Electric.

Bob Miller, a volunteer with the Nevada County chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby who speaks locally on the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Doors open at 7 and the program begins at 7:15 p.m. Donations are welcome. For more information contact Debbie Gibbs at 530-272-4994 or


Nevada City presentation: cutting carbon via the marketplace, by Debbie Gibbs, The Union, May 9, 2019.

Trump plan for fracking 1 million acres in California bad for Yosemite, opponents say

The Trump Administration announced a plan this week to open up more than 1 million acres of land to fracking — a plan environmentalists argue could affect protected national parks.

The Bureau of Land Management released an environmental impact statement on Thursday that considers new oil and gas development on 1.6 million acres across central and Southern California, neighboring Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. among other sites.

The bureau has not issued any fracking leases since a 2013 court ruling that the agency had violated the National Environmental Policy Act without first considering environmental impacts.

National parks and the Central Valley already suffer from poor air quality and fracking would only pile onto that problem, according to Mark Rose, National Parks Conservation Association’s Sierra Nevada field representative.

“The risks posed to our national parks by further oil and gas development — particularly these iconic treasures that helped to inspire the modern-day conservation movement — is saddening to say the least,” he said.

The planning area is located in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura counties

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A sustainable Truckee: town working toward 100 percent renewable energy goal

Truckee is moving closer towards its sustainability goals with preliminary plans on how to power town facilities with 100% renewable electricity by 2020. However, town staff is still on a tight deadline.

In November 2017, the town council adopted its 2020 goal, as well as intentions to power the community with 100% renewable electricity and reduce community greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2040.

According to Town Manager Jeff Loux, the town has spent around $16 million on sustainability projects over the last five years. These included sidewalk improvements and the addition of bike lanes, as well as energy efficiency projects.

To meet the 2020 goal, the staff must figure out exactly what 100% renewable energy means for the town. Potential interpretations of the goal include the town installing solar energy to cover 30 to 40% of the non-renewable energy electricity the town uses though Truckee Donner Public Utility District or utilizing solar to cover 100% of its electrical use.

According to Nick Martin, administrative analyst for the town, half of his time as a town employee is allocated towards sustainability activities.

“We’re making a commitment to this,” he said. “We have the skills that we need and now we have the allocation to really do good work for the town.”


Last year the town hired ARC Alternatives, a clean energy consulting firm, to determine potential upgrades the town could make.

The firm set forth $300,000 worth of recommended energy efficiency projects including replacing the current exterior and interior lighting on town facilities and replacing older heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Their report suggested that the projects would save $36,000 per year on energy costs. In recent years the town has upgraded to LED lighting as opportunities have presented themselves through regular maintenance.

“The town has been doing a really good job as they do maintenance doing upgrades,” said Russell Driver of ARC Alternatives.

The firm also found up to $4.8 million in potential solar generation projects at town sites including the corp yard, animal shelter, town hall, the train depot, and the old corp yard.

“As we define the town goal, this will significantly define what projects the town decides to take on,” said Gillian Greenberg, sustainability specialist for the town of Truckee, of ARC’s report.

Truckee Donner Public Utility District currently offers up incentives for commercial customers upgrading to energy efficient operations, granting $10,000 per customer. At its latest meeting, the district’s board of directors approved up to $60,000 worth of incentives for the town, one incentive per project site.

“I think the town has a real role to play in terms of leadership on this issue,” said Council Member David Tirman.

While council members agreed the town should carry the torch, they also recognized the need for more community outreach.

“What I’d like to see is engagement in the community,” said Council Member Anna Klovstad. “While the town can have a huge impact what we really need is a community response.”

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at 530-550-2652 or


A sustainable Truckee: town working toward 100 percent renewable energy goal, by Hannah Jones, Sierra Sun, April 13, 2019.

CalCom Energy solar projects offset 75% of California utility’s power use

CalCom Energy and Bella Vista Water District announced the completion of a 693-kW solar project to provide clean energy for the utility’s use in Redding, California. The system will advance the district’s sustainability efforts, improve resiliency and reduce costs by offsetting electricity used to pump water throughout the district.

The project is the second solar PV system installed by the district as part of a comprehensive energy strategy to increase the district’s reliance on locally produced solar energy. Together, the two systems are expected to offset 75% of the district’s annual electricity use.“Water districts in California are faced with many challenges today, including water shortages, drought and resiliency challenges — and solar can help address all these issues,” said Dylan Dupre, CEO of CalCom Energy. “By utilizing clean energy to reduce costs and carbon emissions, Bella Vista can serve its customers in a more sustainable and resilient way.”

Bella Vista financed the projects using a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART grant and district funds. The cost savings from reduced energy consumption is estimated to be well over $3 million over the next 25 years.

CalCom Energy engineered and built the ground-mount system, located near the district’s Regulating Facility on Hidden Acres Road in Redding. The system is expected to produce more than 1,000 MWh of clean energy per year.

“By leveraging district funds, we managed to maximize our overall investment in locally produced clean energy, which is central to the district’s energy strategy to reduce dependence upon retail power purchases and exposure to greatly increasing energy costs,” said David Coxey, general manager of Bella Vista Water District.

News item from CalCom Energy


CalCom Energy solar projects offset 75% of California utility’s power use, by Billy Ludt, Solar Power World, March 20, 2019.

California Tribe’s DIY Electric Grid

I was working at a private insurance firm in Sacramento, California, and the Blue Lake Rancheria tribe in Humboldt County came in to look for insurance coverage. I got to know them, and they got to know me. I found that working with a tribal government is much more interesting than insurance. Go figure.

I became communications director for the tribe in 2004. I also became part of the project management team for this hotel the tribe was building. We were looking for ways to increase efficiency. What kind of hot-water tanks are we using?⎯those kinds of details.

The building became the first hotel in California to be used as an energy efficiency model by Pacific Gas and Electric. It turned the tribe’s head to the fact that it could spend a little bit of money up front on sustainability efforts and really reduce its costs of doing business over the long term. I thought, “I really would like to do more of this work.”

I took advantage of the online curriculum offered by the Department of Energy and the Office of Indian Energy Policies and Programs, and I just laser-focused on the goals and what I needed to do to achieve them. In 2013, I started working full-time on sustainability and government affairs for the tribe.

In September 2014, I got a call from Peter Lehman, the founding director of the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State. “You know, I had this crazy idea,” he said. “Would you be interested in doing a microgrid?”

Many tribes in California⎯and across the country⎯don’t have access to the electrical grid, and never have. Where tribes are connected to the grid, a lot of them are at the end of the distribution line. So when things happen, their infrastructure is prioritized below more populous areas’ and other needs of the electrical grid. It’s a chronic problem for tribes.

Here at Blue Lake, we’re at the end of the line. We get a lot of outages because of landslides or wildfires and will get more with this new regime where PG&E is going to de-energize transmission lines when conditions could lead to fires. In the last few years, wildfire conditions have been just terrible. Everything’s just too dry. We’re getting wildfires even on the coast, where typically we haven’t had to worry about them.

We have tribal government offices here. We have a hospitality and gaming complex that has to run 24/7. We are also an American Red Cross–certified shelter. So in an emergency, we want to make sure we have power.

The Idaho National Lab and Siemens had been working together on a microgrid project⎯solar panels combined with batteries. They contacted Peter and said, “Hey, do you know of any community that would be a good host site?” The tribal government had a reputation for being a good partner and being able to invest the required matching funds.

We debated whether we were willing to take the risk. A community microgrid of this complexity is no small thing. You can’t anticipate and budget for every detail. None of these grids are off-the-shelf.

The tribe is now saving between $150,000 and $200,000 per year in electric bills. We still buy power from PG&E, but we provide 20 to 40 percent of the power for our government offices, water and wastewater systems, food storage, and other critical buildings through our solar-battery system. We should pay off our initial investment in four years. We’ve had lots of other utilities come here for tours of the technical side of this, because it is unusual to have a small microgrid that can disconnect and reconnect seamlessly with a larger utility. But the people who’ve been most interested recently are the emergency-preparedness people⎯they understand that renewables plus battery storage is one of the most secure and reliable forms of energy.

We feel good now that all of our eggs aren’t in one basket. That really was the critical impetus for us to build out this infrastructure of resilience. We need to get prepared to take care of people.

This article appeared in the March/April 2019 edition with the headline “End of the Line.”


California Tribe’s DIY Electric Grid, by Heather Smith, Sierra, March 3, 2019.

Paying dividends: Climate group gets carbon-fee bill to Congress

In climatology, the term “tipping point” typically conveys bad news. Headlines with it signal pending thresholds for global warming, polar ice melt, sea level rise and other crises. When climate leaves a stable state—when a tiny change can trigger a massive effect, on the system as a whole—that’s what scientists mean by a tipping point.

Local environmentalist Julie Heath sees a different kind of tipping point on the near horizon. She dedicates countless hours to a solution for what she considers the most consequential problem of our time. That solution finally shows signs of legislative life.

Late last month, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced House Resolution 763 in Congress. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 puts forth policy initiatives championed the past 12 years by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nationwide advocacy organization to which Heath belongs. The bill would put a fee on fossil fuels to encourage transitions to cleaner energy, with proceeds going to the people, not the government. (See “Lobbying for change,” Greenways, June 22, 2017.)

H.R. 763 had 13 co-sponsors as of the CN&R’s deadline, including one Republican—but the congressional Climate Solutions Caucus, split evenly between GOP and Democratic representatives, has 90 members. Heath said the number wasn’t even two dozen when she joined CCL’s Chico chapter two years ago.

“It feels like we may be approaching a tipping point in this whole debate,” Heath said. “I have a very conservative family from Bakersfield. We were out to eat, and I said, ‘Well, what I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been doing some volunteering around climate action.’ I thought they were going to turn me off, or they were going to make snide comments—they thanked me.”

H.R. 763 awaits hearings in three House committees: Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Foreign Affairs. CCL legislative experts told Heath and Gordon Gregory, co-leaders of the Chico chapter, that they expect a Senate bill around June. Versions debuted in the House and Senate near the end of the last congressional session—Nov. 28 and Dec. 20, respectively—but expired.

Meanwhile, Feb. 7—two weeks to the day after H.R. 763 was introduced—Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markley (D-Mass.) released a resolution calling for the federal government to create a Green New Deal designed to cut carbon emissions make for a more sustainable economy. CCL supported their resolution.

“I don’t fool myself [into thinking] that the politics of this are going to be easy, at any stage,” Gregory said. “Entrenched interests—overcoming that is going to be a heck of a challenge. I personally think the only way that’s going to happen is if enough people simply insist that we have to deal with climate change; we’re not there yet, but I think it’s growing all the time.”

CCL’s plan, as embodied in the legislation, calls for a fee on oil, coal and gas that increases over time. Each American gets an equal monthly share to defray associated price increases. The program pays its expenses; the government gets no part of the dividend. To level international trade, imports face a “border carbon adjustment” fee, while exports convey a refund.

H.R. 763 contains two carve-outs: exemptions for the military and the agricultural sector.

Heath explained those sound worse than they are. The military already has green initiatives, as it recognizes climate change as a significant threat to international security and its operations. Farmers, meanwhile, lack technological alternatives and financial resources to replace all their equipment with zero-emission machines—plus, ag exhaust contributes less than 1 percent of U.S. greenhouse gases.

“We’re a very pragmatic organization,” Heath said. “Politically, if you want it to get passed, you have to be realistic.” Legislators from the farm belt warmed to the carbon dividend with those exceptions.

“We believe the military is greening faster than any other type of organization that exists,” she added, “so it’s unlikely that they’re going to be behind the curve anyway. And there’s just too many people in the country who [work in] agriculture who’d be adversely impacted, and it is a very small percentage of what’s being produced [in emissions], so we feel this is a worthwhile carve-out to get the legislation passed.”

The Chico chapter focuses exclusively on California’s first congressional district, currently represented by Republican Doug LaMalfa. A rice farmer from Richvale, LaMalfa staunchly supports President Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords, and refutes humans’ influence on climate.

Gregory has spoken multiple times with LaMalfa’s legislative aide on energy policy, Jack Lincoln; the chapter’s congressional liaison, Robin Anderson, met with LaMalfa at the Oroville field office.

“He was polite, asked good questions, was aware of the organization and the basic concepts of the bill,” Gregory said, noting that Anderson and CCL Chico lobbyist Ann Bykerk-Kauffman, who also attended, told him they were encouraged.

“Even though he has publicly questioned the reality of climate change, and to my knowledge taken no steps to understand it or deal with it in a positive way,” Gregory added, “this is the kind of legislation that somebody like Doug LaMalfa can potentially support.”


Paying dividends: Climate group gets carbon-fee bill to Congress, by Evan Tuchinsky, News Review, February 21, 2019.

Ski Resort in Tahoe Will Get Tesla Powerpacks to Reach 100% Renewable Energy Goal

Tesla will install a Powerpack energy storage system totaling 8 megawatts in Tahoe, California. The system will hold power for local solar farms and other sources to help stabilize the local electric grid. The Powerpack system that rose to fame from their use in South Australia will help the Squaw Valley Ski Resort achieve its goal of using 100% renewable energy by the end of 2018. The proposed “Olympic Valley Microgrid Project” was announced late last month by the Squaw Valley resort and Liberty Utilities.

Powerpack to provide stability

“Battery energy storage can facilitate use of renewable energy sources. Battery storage can also improve service reliability and help offset purchases from fossil fuel sources during times of high electricity demand, saving money for our customers. The Olympic Valley Microgrid project proposal is just one piece in a larger mosaic of renewable energy and battery energy storage projects that Liberty Utilities is exploring throughout our service territory,” said President of Liberty Utilities’ West Region, Greg Sorensen.

The ski resort will provide the land for the system to be built on, while the system will be owned, operated and maintained by Liberty Utilities. Squaw Valley is well on track to achieving their 100% renewable goal by the end of the year thanks to a recent deal with a local solar energy farm.

Ski Resort on 100% renewable target

The new Powerpack system will allow the resort to continue to use renewable energy during blackouts. It currently needs to rely on diesel generators to keep lifts and other critical equipment running during power outages. “We had quite a few brownouts and blackouts last year,” said Andy Wirth, president of the company that operates both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows recreation areas. “This system will provide four to six hours for the community and or the resorts.”

In addition to their goal of 100 percent renewable energy use, the Squaw Valley Resort is setting other goals in relation to the environment. The popular holiday destination has banned the single-use plastic water bottle sales and is in the process of introducing rideshare and carpool incentive programs, and more.

Liberty Utilities will reach mandate

Wirth went on to describe the bigger impact of the project. “It is inspiring to work with a motivated and innovative utility provider like Liberty Utilities on a project that will bring tangible, long-lasting benefits to the power grid that supplies our entire community,” said Wirth. “This project has the ability to significantly increase the resiliency of Olympic Valley’s current power sources, and help set the entire Tahoe Truckee region on a path toward a greater goal of identifying and implementing 100 percent renewable energy sources.”

The project is still under review by the California Public Utilities Commission and Placer County. If approved the project will help Liberty Utilities meet their requirements under California law to provide 50 percent renewable energy supply by 2030.


Ski Resort in Tahoe Will Get Tesla Powerpacks to Reach 100% Renewable Energy Goal, by Jessica Miley, Interesting Engineering, February 6, 2019.

PG&E: Worker reported flames near power equipment at Camp Fire origin site

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Tuesday one of its employees spotted flames near a transmission tower close to the time and place the monstrous Camp Fire roared to life one month ago in Butte County.

In a letter to California utility regulators, PG&E said at about 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 8, an unnamed employee spotted a fire “in the vicinity” of a transmission tower near Camp Creek and Pulga roads. State fire officials have said the Camp Fire began around that time near those same cross streets.

The utility also provided its most detailed description yet of damage to that much-discussed transmission tower, and it disclosed for the first time it found bullet holes on a downed power pole at a second location.

About 15 minutes before the PG&E employee saw a fire, the transmission line there malfunctioned, the utility told regulators last month.

The fire spotted by the worker “was reported to 911 by PG&E employees,” wrote Meredith Allen, the utility’s senior director of regulatory relations, in the new letter to an official at California Public Utilities Commission.

The cause of the Camp Fire, which killed at least 86 people and destroyed nearly 14,000 homes, is under investigation. But PG&E has been under intense public scrutiny since first reporting to regulators — without much detail — two cases of malfunctioning equipment. Allen’s letter provided fresh insights about those equipment problems.

At the transmission tower in the area of the fire’s origin point, PG&E saw via aerial patrol in the afternoon of Nov. 8 that a suspension insulator supporting a jumper had become separated from an arm on the tower, according to the letter. That description is similar to claims about the transmission tower made in a lawsuit filed against PG&E last week.

Subsequently, while assisting fire investigators on Nov. 14, PG&E spotted a broken hook attached to the separated suspension insulator, Allen’s letter said.

PG&E also saw a “flash mark” on the tower near the suspended jumper, along with damage to the jumper and insulator. At a nearby tower, an insulator hold-down anchor — which is not energized — was disconnected, PG&E said.

PG&E also divulged in the letter the nature of damage it found on a separate distribution line, which is where the utility had reported a second malfunction not long after the Camp Fire started.

A PG&E employee patrolling the area Nov. 9 found a power pole and other equipment on the ground with “bullets and bullet holes at the break point of the pole and on the equipment,” Allen’s letter said. Three days later, PG&E found downed wires and damaged and down poles on the same distribution line, along with “several snapped trees, with some on top of the downed wires,” the letter said.

In its public statement announcing the letter late Tuesday, PG&E said the “loss of life, homes and businesses in the Camp Fire is truly devastating.”

“Our focus continues to be on assessing our infrastructure to further enhance safety, restoring electric and gas service where possible, and helping customers begin to recover and rebuild,” the statement said. “Throughout our service area, we are committed to doing everything we can to further reduce the risk of wildfire.”

PG&E also stressed that the incidents are still being investigated and the information it provided remains preliminary.

“The causes may not be fully understood until additional information is available, including information that can only be obtained through examination and testing of the equipment” that Cal Fire has retained, PG&E said. PG&E is cooperating with Cal Fire’s investigation.

The utility also announced this week a series of additional wildfire safety measures it is undertaking, including inspections of 50,000 transmission structures in high fire threat areas. PG&E is also adding new weather stations and fire-watching cameras, among other efforts.


J.D. Morris is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @thejdmorris

PG&E: Worker reported flames near power equipment at Camp Fire origin site, by J.D. Morris, San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 2018.