PG&E Says It Will Bury 10,000 Miles of Power Lines to Reduce California Fire Risk

To help prevent sparking California wildfires, Pacific Gas and Electric Company has announced a major new initiative to bury 10,000 miles of power lines underground.

In addition to significantly reducing wildfire risk, undergrounding also benefits customers by lessening the need for Public Safety Power Shutoffs—which are called as a last resort during dry, windy conditions to reduce the risk of vegetation contacting live power lines and setting off a wildfire.

This effort will also help ease the need for vegetation management efforts, leaving more of California’s trees untouched.

“We have taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop,” said CEO Patti Poppe in a statement. “We will gladly partner with policymakers and state and local leaders to map a path we can all believe in.”

Making the shift happen

Pacific Gas and Electric Company is the nation’s largest natural gas and electric utility— serving more than 16 million people across 70,000 square miles in Northern and Central California.

In the past, undergrounding has been done on a select, case-by-case basis, and largely for reasons other than wildfire risk reduction.

Following the devastating October 2017 Northern California wildfires and the 2018 Camp Fire, PG&E began to evaluate placing overhead power lines underground as a wildfire safety measure, and to better understand the construction and cost requirements associated with undergrounding for system hardening purposes.

In 2019, PG&E announced it would rebuild all its power lines underground in the Town of Paradise as it helps the community recover from the Camp Fire.

The company is also rebuilding power lines underground within the 2020 North Complex Fire footprint in Butte County.

Through these and other demonstration projects and rebuild efforts, PG&E has been able to refine the construction and cost requirements associated with targeted undergrounding, enabling the acceleration and expansion of undergrounding projects.

“Ten thousand miles of [buried] line is a trip halfway around the planet, 10,000 miles of line is a trip from Chico to L.A. 11 times and back,” Poppe said. “We will partner with the best and the brightest to find the best solutions to make this audacious goal come to life.”