California's PG&E to Bury 10K Miles of Power Lines

PG&E 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

Wildfires have continued to become increasingly catastrophic as a result of climate change.

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.

As NPR explained, most of the costs of this project will likely be shouldered by PG&E customers, whose electricity rates are already among the highest in the US.

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.

This year's Dixie Fire reached mega fire status, according to the Los Angeles Times. The fire was likely caused by a pine tree that fell on a PG&E power line.

"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."