Jeff Chiu / AP
SAN RAMON, Calif .– Pacific Gas & Electric plans to bury 10,000 miles of its power lines in an effort to prevent its frayed grid from starting wildfires when electrical equipment collides with millions of trees and d other plants across drought-stricken California.
The intimidating project announced Wednesday aims to bury around 10 percent of PG&E’s distribution and transmission lines at an expected cost of $ 15 billion to $ 30 billion, based on the current cost of the process. The utility believes it will find ways to keep the final bill on the lower end of these estimates. Most of the costs will likely be borne by PG&E customers, whose electricity prices are already among the highest in the United States.
PG&E stepped up its commitment to safety just days after informing regulators that a 70-foot pine tree that spilled onto one of its power lines sparked a major fire in Butte County, the same rural area about 145 miles northeast of San Francisco where another fire started by its equipment in 2018 killed more than 80 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
Since it began on July 13 in a remote area of Butte County, the Dixie Fire has spread northeast through the Sierra Nevada. The blaze spread over an area of 133 square miles on Wednesday, forcing the Plumas County Sheriff on Wednesday to order evacuations along the western shore of popular Almanor Lake.
David Swanson / AP
The backlash over PG&E’s potential liability for the Dixie fire prompted the company’s recently hired CEO, Patricia “Patti” Poppe, to unveil the metro line plan several months earlier than she announced. .
Previous PG&E regimes have fiercely resisted plans to bury long stretches of power lines because of the massive spending involved.
But Poppe told reporters on Wednesday that she quickly realized after joining PG&E in January that moving underground lines was the best way to protect both the utility and the 16 million people who depend on it for it. ‘electricity.
“It’s too expensive not to do it. Lives are at stake,” Poppe told reporters.
Christian Monterrosa / AP
PG&E has only stated that burying the lines will take several years.
However, getting the job done over the next decade will require a quantum leap. In the few areas where PG&E has already buried power lines, it has traveled approximately 123 kilometers per year.
PG&E expects to be able to bury more than 1,600 kilometers of power lines each year, said chief operating officer Adam Wright. While Wright compared the project to the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after WWII, Poppe invoked President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 promise that the United States would land on the moon.
PG&E’s path up to this point has been strewn with death and destruction.
After previous executives let their equipment go into disrepair in an apparent attempt to increase profits and management bonuses, the utility’s grid was accused of starting a series of devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018, which prompted the company to file for bankruptcy in 2019.
Jeff Chiu / AP
The largest fire, in Butte County, wiped out the entire town of Paradise and led PG&E to plead guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter last year, just weeks before it emerges from one of the most complex cases in US history.
As part of its bankruptcy, PG&E created a $ 13.5 billion trust to pay victims of its past wildfires, but this fund faces a shortfall of around $ 2 billion as half of its money is believed to come from company stocks that have lagged the market.
Since coming out of bankruptcy, PG&E has also been reprimanded by California electricity regulators and a federal judge overseeing its criminal probation for breaking promises to reduce the dangers posed by trees near its power lines. The utility has also been charged with another round of fires related crimes it denies committing.
Poppe insisted that things are getting better this year as part of a plan that calls on PG&E to spend $ 1.4 billion to remove more than 300,000 trees and prune another 1.1 million. But she conceded that the utility “is not making enough progress” because it is only a fraction of the 8 million trees within reach of its power lines.
But she also defended PG&E’s handling of the tree that could have caused the Dixie Fire and its response. The tree looked healthy and was about 12 meters from power lines, she said, making it a low-risk hazard.
When a PG&E troubleshooter was dispatched to inspect a potential problem, he noticed the tree had fallen and may have started a fire in a dangerous area which he attempted to put out before the firefighters arrived.
“His efforts can be called nothing short of heroic,” Poppe said.