PG&E plans a 10-year effort to take power lines underground

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Pacific Gas & Electric announced on Wednesday an ambitious plan to take power lines 10,000 miles underground to prevent the wildfires that sent the utility to bankruptcy court in 2019.

The project, which will include about 10 percent of the lines currently above ground, could cost tens of billions of dollars to realize.

The utility, California’s largest electricity provider, said the study will first target areas most vulnerable to wildfires and expand throughout its service region, which includes 5.5 million electricity customers in Northern and Central California.

PG&E’s announcement comes after a preliminary report was sent to state regulators last week. equipment may have caused the Dixie Fire, one of the state’s largest fires, burning at least 85,000 acres. The fire is spreading in Butte County, where utility equipment is located. Caused a fire that destroyed the paradise town and killed 85 people in 2018.

Although utilities nationwide are increasingly moving power lines underground, none have proposed a project on the scale of PG&E’s plan.

“We want you to know that we are working day and night to solve this incredible problem,” said Patricia K. Poppe, CEO of PG&E Corporation, the company’s parent company.

Mark Toney, executive director of the Service Reform Network, which represents consumers before the California Public Utilities Commission, said reducing the risk of wildfires is a priority, but the utilities need to develop a plan that will fund the massive project without already overburdening taxpayers. pays huge costs. Mr. Toney said the project could cost $40 billion, based on an estimated $4 million per mile for underground power line proposals that PG&E has submitted to state regulators.

“We would be living in a world where only the rich could afford electricity,” Mr. Toney said. “PG&E needs a plan to mitigate as much risk as possible at the lowest possible cost to payers.”

In a phone call with reporters, Ms. Poppe said she hopes the utility will reduce the expense per mile enough to keep the total cost between $15 billion and $20 billion. “We can’t put a price on risk reduction and security,” he said.

The company said it could install about a quarter mile a day underground power lines, but aims to increase that to 1,000 miles or more per year to prevent fires.

PG&E has been a focus of the impact of climate change since a series of record-breaking wildfires began burning in Northern California in 2017, many of which are caused by utility equipment.

There is a utility took a few steps including installing equipment to prevent fires, monitor weather conditions, and allow lines to be closed remotely. But the effectiveness of these efforts has been increasingly questioned, especially after the company reported that its equipment could cause the Dixie Fire. Wildfire season is months away from reaching its peak.

State regulators and courts have fined the utility billions of dollars for failing to service its equipment and causing the fire. company, which went bankrupt last year After accumulating $30 billion in wildfire liability, he pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter related to the Paradise fire.

This was his second felony conviction for public service. PG&E in 2016, found guilty of federal charges related to gas pipeline explosion The incident that killed eight people six years ago in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno.

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