PG&E plan to bury lines is shot down

Pacific Gas & Electric — one of the nation’s largest utilities whose equipment has ignited some of California’s deadliest wildfires — wants to bury powerlines in some of its most at-risk areas to prevent fires like the 2018 Camp Fire, started by PG&E lines, that killed 85 people and burned the town of Paradise to the ground. Estimated total cost of the Camp Fire was about $422 billion.

11/08/2018 Camp Fire, NASA satellite image.

But state regulators are balking at the utility’s plan, the Associated Press reported, because it would take too long and cost an estimated $5.9 billion. The company’s customers, who already pay some of the highest rates in the country, would have to foot the bill.


UPDATE 10/18/2023:   According to a KEZI-TV report, Pacific Power recently announced it will receive $150 million in federal grant funding to improve its infrastructure for grid resilience and wildfire mitigation. The funding is from the U.S. Department of Energy, with just under $100 million earmarked for PacifiCorp’s grid resiliency project to reduce the effects of extreme weather on the grid serving disadvantaged communities at highest wildfire risk. An additional $50 million is earmarked for PacifiCorp’s Resiliency Enhancement for Fire Mitigation and Operational Risk Management project.


Regulators want PG&E to put protective covers over many of its overhead powerlines instead of burying them. The cover approach is cheaper, but riskier. PG&E says that burying a powerline reduces the chance it will start a fire by 99 percent because it can’t be blown down by windstorms. The protective cover would reduce that chance by just 62 percent.

tree limb on lines
Vegetation can cause faults and fires electrically. Distribution Fault Anticipation can detect this type of vegetation fault before the dangerous situation escalates. (Texas A&M Engineering)

MyMotherLode.com reported that the company is hoping to bury 2,100 miles of powerlines by 2026. But the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), whose members are appointed by the governor, has not signed off on the plan, out of concerns about the estimated cost.

The Manteca Bulletin reported that customers would be expected to pay PG&E at least $40 more per month; the burying plan was put forth after the utility’s lowest rates were increased 170 percent or more since 2006.

PG&E originally wanted a 26 percent increase, and is now asking for an 18 percent increase. The PUC said they’d consider a maximum of 13 percent.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019 after it faced more than $30 billion in damages for wildfires started by its equipment. The company prefers the burying plan, which it filed with state regulators last year.The PUC will likely decide the issue in November.

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6 thoughts on “PG&E plan to bury lines is shot down”

  1. There are aspects of PG&E’s plan that aren’t being discussed, long term costs being just one. Just burying a line doesn’t ensure its protected forever. Backhoes, subsurface water, ground subsidence, installation errors are just a few factors potentially leading to line failure and are not being discussed. If a line needs to be upgraded to service a growing community, then a new line will need to be trenched in. How are new connections to the line planned? What is the projected lifetime of an underground line. There isn’t any replacement cost comparison being discussed versus protected overhead lines. Then there is the system of detecting shorts in overhead lines, which is constantly being fine-tuned by crews. Add that system to protected overhead lines, and the reliability must be well over the 62% claimed by PG&E. I don’t trust their figures and I don’t trust their arguments. PG&E is a bunch of snakes.

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  2. i agree with that Kelly, my comment was about the rockiness of the area im from, the foothills are covered in some very hard rock. volcanic types, hence to gold in them, lol. but yes, id say no more than 15% though, at the max. how many times have they raised the rates after theyve lost in court and were not supposed to raise the rates, were able to by stating it wasnt for compensation for having to pay out to those lost homes ect. they claimed it was for other things, i forget what they said other then they should have just said it was for profits. weve called them pacific graft and extortion for years for a reason. also, my oldest uncle lost his home in the Paradise camp fire, he passed away long before he saw any insurance money.

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    1. I’m sorry about your uncle. What a shitshow. And YES on the rockiness — not long ago someone here was commenting about how the utilities should have to bury all their lines in Hawai’i (after the Maui fires) and I was trying to grasp the concept of burying lines on volcanic rock islands … and you’re totally right about increased rates after the utilities were ordered not to. In Oregon Pacific Power did exactly that — they were ordered to NOT increase rates to pay damages to people whose homes were burned and they promptly declared they’d pass the costs on to customers. Wait,What?

      Just use that little search button at the top right of this page and try Pacific Power or PacifiCorp.

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  3. i think they should be made to put the lines underground, at PG&E’S expense , not the customers. i lived my entire life in Auburn Ca. was a plumber and firefighter, as a plumber we did a lot of underground work, its nearly impossible to underground anything in most of the areas that it would matter in that general area, they dont need to be put in rhe ground in most of the communities, but rural yes, of course, but i can guarantee it would need to have extensive blasting. and it would just be too much of a cost. its a shame, but are these covers going to do? id like to see what it looks like, the inverted V things arent going to stop a tree branch though.

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    1. Completely agree, Dave, and they should be required to do it and spread the cost to ratepayers over a LENGTHY period (20 years?), but I’d like to see the CPUC tell PG&E that the ratepayers have to pick up only a portion (50% ? 25% ?) of the cost. Look at the total cost of the Camp Fire compared with the cost of this proposed burying plan. Then check out some of the news stories from Oregon where PacificCorp lost in court and will have to reimburse homeowners for MILLIONS in a class-action suit. PG&E can pay upfront for safety or they can pay later for negligence. I vote safety.

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