PG&E Reveals Underground Plan
- Feb 16, 2022 1:37 pm GMT
The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has recently revealed details about their push to bury the California grid. According to Bloomberg, the power company wants to put 3,600 miles of transmission lines underground over the next five years. Moreover, the utility is aiming to cut the cost per mile from $3.75 million to $2.5 million in 2026.
The 3,600 miles of proposed line are part of a larger effort to bury 10,000 miles of lines by a later date. PG&E, and many industry commentators, see an underground transmission system as the clearest solution to the company’s role in wildfires in the region.
PG&E’s culpability in numerous wildfires has brought serious legal trouble and loads of bad press. The company pleaded guilty in 2019 to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history. It also faces five felony and 28 misdemeanor counts in the 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. It also faces a slew of other civil and criminal actions for its alleged responsibility in causing wildfires.
Last month, on the eve of ending their 5-year probation for their role in a 2010 natural gas pipeline, PG&E was characterized as a “continuing menace” in a report written by their probation judge, U.S. District Judge William Alsup. The federal judge also pointed out that the power company had ignited at least 31 wildfires that had burned almost 1.5 million acres and killed 113 people during its probation. He went on to lambast the company for failing to remove unattended hazard trees and vegetation.
While few would claim that PG&E’s underground plan is negative, many wonder if it’s sufficient. In total, PG&E has 25,000 miles of overhead lines in high-threat fire areas. As the plan stands, only 3,600 miles will be underground by 2026, and then 10,000 miles later on. In 2022, they only aim to bury 175 miles of lines. That’s a lot of waiting time in a state where historic wildfires seem to have become an annual event. And, even if things go as planned, that still leaves a whole lot of risky wire above ground.
In a statement given to Bloomberg, Chief Executive Officer Patricia Poppe said of the plan: “It’s big, it’s bold”. Given the current picture in California, I think it’s fair to ask whether these moves are really big and bold enough. We’re talking about multiple disasters, and billions in damages, afterall.
However, PG&E is obviously in a very tough situation. No American utility has ever buried its transmission infrastructure to the degree they’ve proposed. And they have to do it all while cash strapped, and hounded by lawsuits. It seems downright impossible.
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