Kuwait announced last month that it planned to invest more than $6 billion in exploration over the next five years to increase production to four million barrels a day, from 2.4 million now.
This month, the United Arab Emirates, a major OPEC member that produces four million barrels of oil a day, became the first Persian Gulf state to pledge to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. But just last year ADNOC, the U.A.E.’s national oil company, announced it was investing $122 billion in new oil and gas projects.
Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia, has invested heavily in recent years to boost oil output, aiming to raise production to eight million barrels a day by 2027, from five million now. The country is suffering from political turmoil, power shortages and inadequate ports, but the government has made several major deals with foreign oil companies to help the state-owned energy company develop new fields and improve production from old ones.
Even in Libya, where warring factions have hamstrung the oil industry for years, production is rising. In recent months, it has been churning out 1.3 million barrels a day, a nine-year high. The government aims to increase that total to 2.5 million within six years.
National oil companies in Brazil, Colombia and Argentina are also working to produce more oil and gas to raise revenue for their governments before demand for oil falls as richer countries cut fossil fuel use.
After years of frustrating disappointments, production in the Vaca Muerta, or Dead Cow, oil and gas field in Argentina has jumped this year. The field had never supplied more than 120,000 barrels of oil in a day but is now expected to end the year at 200,000 a day, according to Rystad Energy, a research and consulting firm. The government, which is considered a climate leader in Latin America, has proposed legislation that would encourage even more production.
“Argentina is concerned about climate change, but they don’t see it primarily as their responsibility,” said Lisa Viscidi, an energy expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington research organization. Describing the Argentine view, she added, “The rest of the world globally needs to reduce oil production, but that doesn’t mean that we in particular need to change our behavior.”
Just weeks before Hurricane Ida knocked out power to much of Louisiana, leaving its residents exposed to extreme heat and humidity, the chief executive of Entergy, the state’s biggest utility company, told Wall Street that it had been upgrading power lines and equipment to withstand big storms.
“Building greater resiliency into our system is an ongoing focus,” the executive, Leo P. Denault, told financial analysts on a conference call on Aug. 4, adding that Entergy was replacing its towers and poles with equipment “able to handle higher wind loading and flood levels.”
Mr. Denault’s statements would soon be tested harshly. On the last Sunday in August, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana and dealt a catastrophic blow to Entergy’s power lines, towers and poles, many of which were built decades ago to withstand much weaker hurricanes. The company had not upgraded or replaced a lot of that equipment with more modern gear designed to survive the 150 mile-an-hour wind gusts that Ida brought to bear on the state.
A hurricane like Ida would have been a challenge to any power system built over many decades that contains a mix of dated and new equipment. But some energy experts said Entergy was clearly unprepared for the Category 4 storm despite what executives have said about efforts to strengthen its network.
a Category 2 storm, according to an analysis of regulatory filing and other company records by McCullough Research, a consulting firm based in Portland, Ore., that advises power companies and government agencies.
Entergy said that analysis was inaccurate but wouldn’t say how many of its transmission structures were built to withstand 150 mile-per-hour winds. The company has said that its towers met the safety standards in place at the time of installation but older standards often assumed wind speeds well below 150 m.p.h.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional group whose guidelines are widely followed by utilities and other industries, recommends that power companies that operate in areas vulnerable to hurricanes install equipment that can withstand major storms and return service quickly when systems fail. In coastal areas of Louisiana, for example, it says large transmission equipment should be designed to withstand winds of 150 m.p.h.
growing ferocity of hurricanes. The company says it had acted with alacrity. Its critics contend that it dragged its feet.
to restart a $210 million natural gas-fired plant the company opened in New Orleans last year that it said would provide power during periods of high demand, including after storms. But energy experts say it is a lot more concerning that so many of the company’s lines went down — and did so for the second year in a row.
Last year, Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, destroyed and damaged hundreds of Entergy’s towers and poles in Southwestern Louisiana. In April, Entergy told the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates its operations outside New Orleans, that the company had strengthened its equipment, including the installation of stronger distribution poles in coastal areas particularly vulnerable to high winds.
Michelle P. Bourg, who is responsible for transmission at Entergy’s Louisiana operations, told regulators that because it was too expensive to make the entire network resilient, Entergy pursued “targeted programs that cost effectively reduce the risks to reliability.”
In a statement, Entergy said its spending on transmission was working, noting that Ida destroyed or damaged 508 transmission structures, compared with 1,909 during Laura and 1,003 in Katrina. The company added that its annual investment in transmission in Louisiana and New Orleans has increased over the last eight years and totaled $926 million in 2020, when it spent extensively on repairs after Laura. The company spent $471 million on transmission in 2019.
“The facts of this storm support that we have made substantial progress in terms of resiliency since the storms that hit our system in the early 2000s — both generally and with respect to transmission in particular,” said Jerry Nappi, an Entergy spokesman.
The company declined to provide the age of damaged or destroyed transmission structures and an age range for the damaged distribution poles and equipment. Mr. Nappi acknowledged that distribution poles suffered widespread destruction and were not built to withstand winds of 130 to 150 m.p.h.
“Substantial additional investment will be required to mitigate hardship and avoid lengthy outages as increasingly powerful storms hit with increasing frequency,” he said in an email. “We are pursuing much-needed federal support for the additional hardening needed without compromising the affordability of electricity on which our customers and communities depend.”
The company’s plea for more help comes as President Biden is pushing to upgrade and expand the nation’s electricity system to address climate change as well as to harden equipment against disasters. Part of his plan includes spending tens of billions of dollars on transmission lines. Mr. Biden also wants to provide incentives for clean energy sources like solar and wind power and batteries — the kinds of improvements that community leaders in New Orleans had sought for years and that Entergy has often pushed back on.
Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council, said she opposed the construction of the new natural gas plant, which was located in a low-lying area near neighborhoods made up mostly of African Americans and Vietnamese Americans. Instead, she pushed for upgrades to the transmission and distribution system and more investment in solar power and batteries. The council ultimately approved Entergy’s plans for the plant over her objections.
“One of the things we argued about was that they should be upgrading transmission lines rather than building a peaking plant,” Ms. Guidry said.
In addition, she said, she called for the company to replace the wooden poles in neighborhoods with those built with stronger materials.
Robert McCullough, principal of McCullough Research, said it was hard to understand why Entergy had not upgraded towers and poles more quickly.
“Wood poles no longer have the expected lifetime in the face of climate change,” he said. “Given the repeated failures, it is going to be cost-effective to replace them with more durable options that can survive repeated Category 4 storms — including going to metal poles in many circumstances.”
Had Entergy invested more in its transmission and distribution lines and solar panels and battery systems, some green energy activists argued, the city and state would not have suffered as widespread and as long a power outage as it did after Ida.
“Entergy Louisiana needs to be held accountable for this,” said one of those activists, Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Clean Energy.
Entergy has argued that the natural gas plant was a much more affordable and reliable option for providing electricity during periods of high demand than solar panels and batteries.
Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Biden’s energy secretary, said that Ida highlighted the need for a big investment in electric grids. That might include putting more power lines serving homes and businesses under ground. Burying wires would protect them from winds, though it could make it harder to access the lines during floods.
“Clearly, as New Orleans builds back, it really does have to build back better in some areas,” Ms. Granholm said in an interview this month.
Mr. Nappi, the Entergy spokesman, said that distribution lines in some parts of New Orleans and elsewhere are already underground but that burying more of them would be expensive. “Distribution assets can be made to withstand extreme winds, through engineering or under grounding, but at significant cost and disruption to customers and to the community,” he said.
Most of New Orleans went dark on Sunday after Hurricane Ida took out transmission lines and forced power plants offline. It was an all too familiar scene in a city that has often lost power during big storms.
But this was an outage that was never supposed to happen. The utility company Entergy opened a new natural gas power plant in the city last year, pledging that it would help keep the lights on — even during hot summer days and big storms. It was one of two natural gas plants commissioned in recent years in the New Orleans area, the other one hailed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last year as a “source of clean energy that gives our state a competitive advantage and helps our communities grow.”
The storm raises fresh questions about how well the energy industry has prepared for natural disasters, which many scientists believe are becoming more common because of climate change. This year, much of Texas was shrouded in darkness after a winter storm, and last summer officials in California ordered rolling blackouts during a heat wave.
More than a million residential and commercial customers in Louisiana were without power on Monday afternoon, and Entergy and other utilities serving the state said it would take days to assess the damage to their equipment and weeks to fully restore service across the state. One customer can be a family or a large business, so the number of people without power is most likely many times higher. In neighboring Mississippi, just under 100,000 customers were without power.
some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires.
impossible for Texas to import power by keeping the state grid largely isolated from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight.
add more transmission lines to carry more solar and wind power from one region of the country to another. But some energy experts said the increasing frequency of devastating hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters argues against a big investment in power lines and for greater investment in smaller-scale systems like rooftop solar panels and batteries. Because small systems are placed at many homes, businesses, schools and other buildings, some continue to function even when others are damaged, providing much-needed energy during and after disasters.
Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council who voted against the Entergy plant, said she had worried that a storm like Ida could wreak havoc on her city and its energy system. She had wanted the city and utility to consider other options. But she said her fellow Council members and the utility had ignored those warnings.
“They said that they had dealt with that problem,” Ms. Guidry said. “The bottom line is they should have instead been upgrading their transmission and investing in renewable energy.”
Numerous community groups and city leaders opposed the gas-fired power plant, which is just south of Interstate 10 and Lake Pontchartrain, bordering predominantly African American and Vietnamese American neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the City Council approved the plant, which began commercial operations in May 2020. It generates power mainly at times of peak demand.
About a year earlier, Entergy opened a larger gas power plant in nearby St. Charles Parish. Leo P. Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive, last year called that plant “a significant milestone along the clean energy journey we began more than 20 years ago.”
Some utilities have turned to burying transmission lines to protect them from strong winds and storms, but Mr. Gasteiger said that was expensive and could cause its own problems.
“Generally speaking, it’s not that the utilities are not willing to do it,” he said. “It’s that people aren’t willing to pay for it. Usually it’s a cost issue. And undergrounding can make it more difficult to locate and fix” problems.
Big changes to electric grids and power plants are likely to take years, but activists and residents of New Orleans say officials should explore solutions that can be rolled out more quickly, especially as tens of thousands of people face days or weeks without electricity. Some activists want officials to put a priority on investments in rooftop solar, batteries and microgrids, which can power homes and commercial buildings even when the larger grid goes down.
“We keep walking by the solutions to keep people safe in their homes,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer group based in New Orleans. “When these events happen, then we’re in crisis mode because instead we’re spending billions of dollars every year now to rebuild the same system that leaves people in the dark, in a dire situation.”
Some residents have already invested in small-scale energy systems for themselves. Julie Graybill and her husband, Bob Smith, installed solar panels and batteries at their New Orleans home after Hurricane Isaac blew through Louisiana in 2012. They lost power for five days after Isaac, at times going to their car for air-conditioning with their two older dogs, said Ms. Graybill, 67, who retired from the Tulane University School of Medicine.
“We would sit in the car about every hour,” she said. “My husband said, ‘We are never doing this again.’” Mr. Smith, 73, who is also retired, worked as an engineer at Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company.
The couple have set up a little power station on their porch so neighbors can charge their phones and other items. Only a few other homes on their street have solar panels, but no one else nearby has batteries, which can store the power that panels generate and dispense it when the grid goes down.
“We’re told we’re not going to have power for three weeks,” Ms. Graybill said. “The only people who have power are people with generators or solar panels. We lived through Katrina. This is not Katrina, so we’re lucky.”
The nation is facing once in a generation choices about how energy ought to be delivered to homes, businesses and electric cars — decisions that could shape the course of climate change and determine how the United States copes with wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather linked to global warming.
On one side, large electric utilities and President Biden want to build thousands of miles of power lines to move electricity created by distant wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs. On the other, some environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar panels, batteries and local wind turbines.
There is an intense policy struggle taking place in Washington and state capitals about the choices that lawmakers, energy businesses and individuals make in the next few years, which could lock in an energy system that lasts for decades. The divide between those who want more power lines and those calling for a more decentralized energy system has split the renewable energy industry and the environmental movement. And it has created partnerships of convenience between fossil fuel companies and local groups fighting power lines.
At issue is how quickly the country can move to cleaner energy and how much electricity rates will increase.
senators from both parties agreed to in June. That deal includes the creation of a Grid Development Authority to speed up approvals for transmission lines.
Most energy experts agree that the United States must improve its aging electric grids, especially after millions of Texans spent days freezing this winter when the state’s electricity system faltered.
“The choices we make today will set us on a path that, if history is a barometer, could last for 50 to 100 years,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University. “At stake is literally the health and economic well-being of every American.”
The option supported by Mr. Biden and some large energy companies would replace coal and natural gas power plants with large wind and solar farms hundreds of miles from cities, requiring lots of new power lines. Such integration would strengthen the control that the utility industry and Wall Street have over the grid.
batteries installed at homes, businesses and municipal buildings.
Those batteries kicked in up to 6 percent of the state grid’s power supply during the crisis, helping to make up for idled natural gas and nuclear power plants. Rooftop solar panels generated an additional 4 percent of the state’s electricity.
become more common in recent years.
Some environmentalists argue that greater use of rooftop solar and batteries is becoming more essential because of climate change.
After its gear ignited several large wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric began shutting off power on hot and windy days to prevent fires. The company emerged from bankruptcy last year after amassing $30 billion in liabilities for wildfires caused by its equipment, including transmission lines.
Elizabeth Ellenburg, an 87-year-old cancer survivor in Napa, Calif., bought solar panels and a battery from Sunrun in 2019 to keep her refrigerator, oxygen equipment and appliances running during PG&E’s power shut-offs, a plan that she said has worked well.
“Usually, when PG&E goes out it’s not 24 hours — it’s days,” said Ms. Ellenburg, a retired nurse. “I need to have the ability to use medical equipment. To live in my own home, I needed power other than the power company.”
working to improve its equipment. “Our focus is to make both our distribution and transmission system more resilient and fireproof,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief risk officer.
But spending on fire prevention by California utilities has raised electricity rates, and consumer groups say building more power lines will drive them even higher.
Average residential electricity rates nationally have increased by about 14 percent over the last decade even though average household energy use rose just over 1 percent.
2019 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department, found that greater use of rooftop solar can reduce the need for new transmission lines, displace expensive power plants and save the energy that is lost when electricity is moved long distances. The study also found that rooftop systems can put pressure on utilities to improve or expand neighborhood wires and equipment.
Texas was paralyzed for more than four days by a deep freeze that shut down power plants and disabled natural gas pipelines. People used cars and grills and even burned furniture to keep warm; at least 150 died.
One reason for the failure was that the state has kept the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas largely disconnected from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight. That prevented the state from importing power and makes Texas a case for the interconnected power system that Mr. Biden wants.
Consider Marfa, an artsy town in the Chihuahuan Desert. Residents struggled to stay warm as the ground was blanketed with snow and freezing rain. Yet 75 miles to the west, the lights were on in Van Horn, Texas. That town is served by El Paso Electric, a utility attached to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, a grid that ties together 14 states, two Canadian provinces and a Mexican state.
$1.4 million, compared with about $1 million to Donald J. Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In Washington, developers of large solar and wind projects are pushing for a more connected grid while utilities want more federal funding for new transmission lines. Advocates for rooftop solar panels and batteries are lobbying Congress for more federal incentives.
Separately, there are pitched battles going on in state capitals over how much utilities must pay homeowners for the electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. Utilities in California, Florida and elsewhere want lawmakers to reduce those rates. Homeowners with solar panels and renewable energy groups are fighting those efforts.
Building power lines is hard.
Despite Mr. Biden’s support, the utility industry could struggle to add power lines.
Many Americans resist transmission lines for aesthetic and environmental reasons. Powerful economic interests are also at play. In Maine, for instance, a campaign is underway to stop a 145-mile line that will bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts.
New England has phased out coal but still uses natural gas. Lawmakers are hoping to change that with the help of the $1 billion line, called the New England Clean Energy Connect.
This spring, workmen cleared trees and installed steel poles in the forests of western Maine. First proposed a decade ago, the project was supposed to cut through New Hampshire until the state rejected it. Federal and state regulators have signed off on the Maine route, which is sponsored by Central Maine Power and HydroQuebec.
But the project is mired in lawsuits, and Maine residents could block it through a November ballot measure.
set a record in May, and some scientists believe recent heat waves were made worse by climate change.
“Transmission projects take upward of 10 years from conception to completion,” said Douglas D. Giuffre, a power expert at IHS Markit. “So if we’re looking at decarbonization of the power sector by 2035, then this all needs to happen very rapidly.”
HOUSTON — When OPEC barred oil exports to the United States in 1973, creating long gasoline lines, President Richard Nixon pledged an effort that would combine the spirit of the Apollo program and the determination of the Manhattan Project.
“By the end of this decade, we will have developed the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources,” he said in a televised address.
His timing was off — it took more than 40 years — but the country has come pretty close to energy independence in recent years thanks to a surge in domestic shale oil and natural gas production and the harnessing of solar and wind energy.
That independence, however, is fragile. Last week, cars lined up at gas stations across much of the Southeast after the Colonial Pipeline was paralyzed by a cyberattack by a criminal group seeking a ransom. The electric grid is also coming under greater stress because of climate change. In the last year, a heat wave in California and a deep freeze in Texas forced rolling blackouts as demand for power outstripped supply.
panic buying rarely seen in decades produced shortages, and prices at the pump rose as much as 20 cents a gallon for regular gasoline in some states in a few days, according to AAA.
Mr. Yergin said that drivers who lined up at pumps to fill gas cans and even plastic bags made the situation worse. The impulse to hoard harkened back to the oil shocks of the 1970s and appeared to touch a chord in the national psyche.
“People remembered gas lines even though they weren’t born yet,” Mr. Yergin said.
Colonial Pipeline, a private company, resumed full operations over the weekend, but it will take at least several more days before many gas stations are restocked.
Energy companies will come under greater pressure from governments and investors to bulk up their defenses against cyberattacks, but those and other vulnerabilities will not be easily overcome, especially after years of underinvestment.
Upgrading the energy system will not be easy. Dozens of competing companies that operate a vast web of oil and gas wells and pumping stations, transmission lines and power plants will need coaxing to make their operations more resilient to weather and criminal attacks. Considerable funding will have to come from business and government, as well as research to keep ahead of the cybercriminals. President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan devotes $100 billion to the transmission grid.
The quest for energy independence has never been a straight line, and there have been many unfortunate twists. Reliance on Middle East oil was a major consideration in military action and diplomatic strategy, including alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia with disturbing human rights records. A half-century ago, the country shifted from burning heating oil to relying more heavily on coal, which contributed to climate change.
But the search for energy independence also led to innovation. Fracking — the hydraulic fracturing of shale oil and natural gas deposits — not only slashed energy imports but also made the United States a major exporter. Suddenly oil and gas were not a national security vulnerability but a tool to further American interests.
nearly half of the transportation fuel needs of the region.
When hurricanes hit, and refineries on the Gulf shut down, gasoline and diesel prices tend to rise along the East Coast. Normally, that is not a huge problem because companies store lots of fuel close to where it is used and trucks and barges can usually make up the difference. This time, however, uncertainty about how long it would take to restore supplies made the Colonial Pipeline’s shutdown much more disruptive.
The ransomware attack was the work of DarkSide, an extortionist ring that has been responsible for scores of attacks on companies in several countries. But it is hardly the only group that infiltrates computer systems to extort money. Others go by names like REvil, Maze and LockBit.
“The technology moves so quickly, you solve one or two or twenty possible vulnerabilities in your computer systems and the hackers find a different way to get in.” said Drue Pearce, a former deputy administrator of the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The criminal groups represent a threat to industries beyond energy. But experts say energy is of particular concern because it is essential to a functioning economy. The peril is no less complex than reducing the United States’ reliance on foreign oil, said Bill Richardson, a former energy secretary.
“This is a new threat that we are not prepared for,” he said.
MADRID — In the winter of 2015, three directors of a Connecticut electric company met with a potential acquirer: a determined Spanish utility executive named José Ignacio Sánchez Galán, who surprised them with a bold vision for America’s utility industry.
“He was very clear then that he saw the U.S. as having enormous potential in renewable energy,” said John L. Lahey, who was chairman of the company, United Illuminating. “This guy six years ago was already way ahead of where the U.S. was.”
Mr. Galán clinched that deal for United Illuminating for $3 billion. His company, Iberdrola, is now poised, with a Danish partner, to begin constructing the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, in waters off Massachusetts. Over all, Iberdrola and its subsidiaries reach 24 U.S. states and have investments in countries from Britain to Brazil to Australia.
For the past 20 years, since he took over Iberdrola, based in Bilbao with 37,000 employees, Mr. Galán has been on a mission to upend the electrical utility industry, a fragmented collection of companies tied to aging coal- and oil-burning generators.
Biden administration in the United States and European countries tighten regulations and provide incentives to encourage investment in green energy.
“Galán without doubt was the chief executive of a big utility that first understood that the energy transition from fossil fuels to clean energy was unavoidable and that it would happen fast,” said Miguel Arias Cañete, a Spanish politician and former European commissioner for energy and climate action.
The changes at Iberdrola are happening elsewhere, as the electric power industry is being reconfigured not only by tougher environmental laws but also by the advantages of immense scale in buying wind turbines or solar panels.
Enel in Italy, Orsted in Denmark and Nextera Energy in the United States — that many analysts see as leaders of a new generation of “renewable majors,” comparable to the way oil majors like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell exercised huge influence on how the world used energy.
Kyoto Protocol was signed, the first major international agreement to call on countries to reduce greenhouse gases to prevent global warming.
Many industrial giants vowed to fight laws to tighten emissions, but Mr. Galán was inspired. He said in an interview that he saw the agreement as an opening for businesses prepared to invest in technologies like wind and solar power that would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Instead of being a problem I saw that as an opportunity,” Mr. Galán said. The geopolitical trends represented by Kyoto were “moving in my direction.”
Today in Business
Under a 12 billion euro restructuring plan that was considered radical at the time, Iberdrola sold much of its portfolio of emissions-spewing coal and oil-fired power plants to invest instead in renewables, as well as in networks for delivering electricity.
Mr. Galán concedes that his proposals seemed risky, given that they coincided with the spectacular collapse of Enron, another ambitious electric power business.
major oil companies entered the bidding for options to build wind farms off the British coast, and the prices paid were criticized by some operators as too high.
it has done nothing wrong.
But for an executive known for making bold bets on the future, Mr. Galán, who is 70, has yet to announce any transition plans. He remains in firm control as both chairman and chief executive, and says he has no interest in retiring, once describing himself as “the dean of all chief executives of Europe.”
Some analysts say privately that he ought to be grooming a successor. His son and son-in-law are both managers at the company but are not seen as ready to step into the executive suite, and his second-in-command is 64.
“I think I have to continue just growing and conducting this company,” he said.
Stanley Reed reported from London, and Raphael Minder from Madrid.
Pacific Gas & Electric, the troubled utility that has started some of California’s most destructive wildfires, faces new criminal charges, for its role in igniting a 2019 wildfire that burned 120 square miles in Sonoma County north of San Francisco.
The county’s district attorney on Tuesday charged PG&E, which emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors, including recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, in connection with the Kincade Fire. The blaze damaged or destroyed more than 400 buildings and seriously injured six firefighters.
This is the third set of criminal charges filed against PG&E, California’s largest utility. A jury in 2017 convicted PG&E of charges related to five deaths in a gas pipeline explosion seven years earlier. And the utility pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2018 Camp Fire, which was started by its equipment. That fire destroyed the town of Paradise and helped drive PG&E into bankruptcy, where it worked to resolve an estimated $30 billion in wildfire liabilities.
California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that the Kincade Fire had started after high winds knocked a cable from a PG&E tower at the Geysers geothermal field. The fire took 15 days to contain, and the district attorney, Jill Ravitch, described the evacuation required in some towns as the largest ever in Sonoma County, a California wine hub.
If convicted, PG&E could face fines and additional penalties for violating a federal probation that stems from the pipeline explosion case. The company has paid billions of dollars to governments, families, insurance companies and others for disasters caused by its equipment, which regulators have said has often been very poorly maintained.
In a statement on Tuesday, PG&E promised that it would continue upgrading its equipment and carrying out safety practices to protect Californians. The company said it accepted findings that its equipment had caused the Kincade Fire but did not believe it was criminally liable.
“We are saddened by the property losses and personal impacts sustained by our customers and communities in Sonoma County and surrounding areas as a result of the October 2019 Kincade Fire,” the company said. “We do not believe there was any crime here. We remain committed to making it right for all those impacted and working to further reduce wildfire risk on our system.”
The company emerged from bankruptcy last summer, agreeing to pay $13.5 billion to a fund set up to compensate tens of thousands of individuals and families who lost homes in wildfires started by PG&E.
Emerging from bankruptcy allowed the utility to participate in a $20 billion state wildfire fund with California’s other investor-owned utilities to help cover costs of future wildfires.
The utility has been working to improve its equipment, adding weather stations, cameras, micro-grids and sturdier transmission towers and lines. Patricia K. Poppe, who became chief executive of PG&E’s parent company in January, said she had taken the job “to ensure that we care for all those who were harmed, and that we make it safe again in California.”
“We will work around the clock until that is true for all people we are privileged to serve,” she added.
Dozens of other ad agencies, most of them small, have signed the same pledge, which was put together by the advocacy group Fossil Free Media. The effort, which is known as Clean Creatives, is managed by Duncan Meisel, an environmental activist who conceded that it would be difficult for ad agencies to say no to fossil fuel dollars during a pandemic.
“The advertising industry is not super healthy right now,” Mr. Meisel said. “People are used to having these clients, and it’s hard to say no to a paycheck.”
Environmental activists are not the only ones who have been applying pressure on ad makers. Amsterdam voted in December to investigate how to block oil and gas ads from its streets. Other calls to ban such advertising, attach climate warnings to it, or prevent fossil fuel companies from sponsoring sports teams have emerged in Australia, Netherlands, Canada, France, Belgium, Finland and elsewhere.
Democratic officials have filed lawsuits over the past 18 months in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Hoboken, N.J., accusing Exxon, the trade group American Petroleum Institute and others in the industry of engaging in deception about climate change, including through their ads.
Several publications have limited or stopped accepting fossil fuel ads, including the British Medical Journal, The Guardian, and the Swedish publications Dagens Nyheter and Dagens ETC. The New York Times said in a statement that it did not allow oil and gas companies to sponsor its climate newsletter, its climate summit or its podcast “The Daily.” It still publishes paid posts from companies such as Exxon. In a statement, The Times said that “advertising helps support our newsroom, which covers the issue and impacts of climate change more than any other in the U.S.”
Hillary Moglen, a principal at Rally, a Los Angeles advocacy communications firm that has avoided working with oil and gas companies, said a shift was underway. “It’s an old-guard, new-guard situation,” she said. “There will be a point when it won’t be culturally acceptable to work with these clients.”
Sergio Rodriguez, a consultant from St. Marys, Ga., who owns a Tesla Model X, recently drove a Mach E across the country. Mr. Rodriguez said he planned to keep his Model X, despite some serious quality issues and slow responses by Tesla that he has described in YouTube videos and on electric vehicle websites.
“I still love the Model X. In terms of performance, you want a thrill,” he said. “But you have to accept that it has a lot of imperfections. The Mach E is definitely built with quality, and it’s cool. You can’t help but look when it drives by.”
Last month, Ford sold 3,739 Mach E’s, a tiny number compared with the tens of thousands of pickup trucks the company sells every month but respectable for an electric car. This month, Volkswagen is scheduled to begin delivering its electric S.U.V., the ID.4, in the United States. General Motors recently updated its electric compact, the Chevrolet Bolt, and introduced a larger, higher-riding version of the car.
Whatever the competition brings, Tesla has enough cash on hand to finance its operations for some time. It took advantage of its soaring stock price last year by selling more than $12 billion of new stock to investors, and had more than $19 billion in cash at the end of 2020. Tesla spent $1.5 billion on Bitcoin early this year, and even if the company takes big losses on that wager, it will still have significant cash on hand.
The company, which did not respond to a request for comment, has come a long way from the dark days of 2018 and 2019, when some analysts wondered if it would survive as an independent business. Mr. Musk was struggling with increasing the production of Tesla’s most affordable car, the Model 3, and described the company’s problems as “manufacturing hell.”
Despite the recent drop, Tesla’s stock price is still up over 300 percent over the past 12 months. And its market value is more than the combined market capitalization of Toyota Motor, Volkswagen, Daimler, G.M. and Ford — companies that sell many more cars than Tesla.
Of course, any time a company is valued at many times its peers, it can be vulnerable to a sell-off if investors begin to have even small doubts. Even after the stock plunged from its high, Wall Street is extremely optimistic about Tesla. The stock trades at 144 times the profit that analysts expect the company to earn this year, a stratospheric valuation. Much hope in the market is placed on Tesla’s having a big slice of a much larger market for electric vehicles, which is why analysts expect the company’s profits to more than double by the end of 2025.