Pros and cons (and costs) of buried power lines debated

Pacific Gas & Electric wants to bury power lines in some areas most at risk for wildfires. State regulators are baking at the plan because it would take too long and cost $5.9 billion. Customers would foot the bill.



October 17, 2023 - 2:52 PM

Tyler Owens, left, directs track hoe operator Alan King, both with the Underground Electric Construction Company, as they work to dig two lines of 6-inch conduit to the correct depth at the Lime Ridge Open Space in Walnut Creek, California, on Thursday, May 19, 2022. The conduit will carry Pacific Gas and Electric power lines underground and replace the existing above-ground lines to reduce the risk of wildfire ignitions. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

VACAVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric — one of the nation’s largest utilities whose equipment has sparked some of California’s deadliest wildfires — wants to bury power lines in some of its most at-risk areas to prevent destructive blazes like the 2018 Paradise fire that killed 85 people.

But state regulators are balking at the utility’s plan because it would take too long and cost $5.9 billion. The company’s customers — who already have some of the highest rates in the country — would have to pay for it.

Regulators want PG&E to put a protective cover over many of its overhead power lines instead of burying them. The cover approach is cheaper, but riskier. PG&E says burying a power line reduces the chance it will start a wildfire by 99% because it can’t be blown down by wind storms. The protective cover, which would better insulate the power line should it fall to the ground, would reduce that chance by 62%.

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