California's PG&E to Bury 10K Miles of Power Lines
After years of devastating fire seasons, California utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced that it aims to move approximately 10,000 miles of power lines underground to avoid accidental sparks.
Why This Matters
- Last year's wildfire season broke records -- National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported that as of Nov. 27, there were 52,113 wildfires that had burned 8,889,297.
- This year looks to be even worse with over 170 fires currently scorching, burning through California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
- More than 2.6 million acres have already burned from wildfire this year -- a mark well ahead of the 1.9 million acres that burned in 2019.
Moving power lines underground can help reduce wildfire risk. Yet doing so with PG&E's 10,000 miles of above-ground lines would cost tens of billions of dollars (at $3 million per mile) and require hiring specialized workers who are equipped to handle power lines.
PG&E Under Fire
PG&E has faced immense backlash for its power lines sparking a series of cataclysmic wildfires in California. In 2018, PG&E's faulty equipment started the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history and the world's most expensive natural disaster in terms of insured losses that year. The company pleaded guilty to 84 separate counts of involuntary manslaughter as a result of the blaze. In 2019, PG&E announced it would rebuild the power lines underground in Paradise, a town in Northern California, decimated by the Camp Fire.
PG&E has further evaluated the possibility of placing overhead power lines underground. Over the last few years, the company performed tests that shifted power lines underground in high fire-threat areas, including Alameda, Nevada, and Sonoma counties.
"We want what all of our customers want: a safe and resilient energy system," said PG&E CEO Patti Poppe in a press conference last week. "We have taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop."