By Ken Devol
Pacific Gas and Electric announced Wednesday that it intends to lay 10,000 miles of underground power lines throughout California, beginning in high-risk fire areas.
PG&E CEO Patti Poppe made the announcement at a news conference in Chico Wednesday, days after the utility company reported to the California Public Utilities Commission that their equipment may have been involved in sparking the Dixie Fire, which has forced evacuations in Butte and Plumas counties.
The cause of the Dixie Fire is still under investigation.
Poppe acknowledged the enormity of the challenge of burying power lines on a large scale and described the project as one of the largest infrastructure undertakings in California history.
She said new technology and experience will enable the company to accomplish the work and that replacing a larger number of lines at once will reduce costs. She did not provide an estimate as to how long it might take to complete the project. Poppe also did not directly answer a question about the costs of the project or who would pay for it.
PG&E equipment has been found at fault for a number of California's largest and most destructive wildfires, including the Kincaid Fire in 2017 and the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and devastated the town of Paradise.
Paradise Mayor Steve Crowder said he’s relieved PG&E is committing to burying more lines but wishes it would have happened sooner.
“Personally I don’t care what it costs," Crowder said. "I think it’s something that needs to be done and I don’t want to see other communities go through what we’ve gone through.”
Poppe told fire survivors that they deserved better and promised on behalf of the company to do all it can to address current problems and plan for a better and more secure future.
The utility will also continue its efforts to enhance safety in its distribution system and remove 300,000 trees, trim more than a million others, and harden more than 100 miles of existing transmission lines.
The company is currently replacing infrastructure destroyed in some burn scar areas with underground lines. Poppe cited Paradise and the communities devastated by the 2020 North Complex area as examples.
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