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California Transmission Lines Heading Underground to Prevent Wildfires

By Rick Laezman | Mar 22, 2024
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Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) launched a program designed to help the state’s major utilities bury their power lines underground.

Few states have been affected as heavily by the growing wrath of climate change than California, which has experienced devasting wildfires in recent years. A number of these were caused by power lines.

The state’s utility regulator has taken steps to address this problem. Earlier this month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) launched a program designed to help the state’s major utilities bury their power lines underground.

The intent of the CPUC’s new undergrounding program is to expedite the process of moving utility distribution infrastructure underground. The overriding motivation for this effort is safety.

Original credit goes to the California State Legislature, which approved SB 884 in 2022. The bill specifically directed the CPUC to establish the undergrounding program.

Under the newly adopted program, the state’s large utilities must submit a 10-year distribution infrastructure undergrounding plan to the CPUC and to the state’s Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety for review and approval.

For approval, plans must demonstrate the ability to achieve two important goals. They must outline a path for the utility to “substantially increase reliability” and “substantially reduce wildfire risk.”

The new program applies to the state’s large investor-owned utilities, which the enabling legislation defines as utilities with 250,000 or more customers. This includes Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

The program will help the state address one of the most destructive effects of climate change. According to the California State Auditor, power lines have caused six of the state’s 20 most destructive wildfires since 2015.

Southern California Edison notes on its website that with underground systems, the risk of ignitions and outages caused by vegetation, debris and other factors during a significant weather event is “virtually eliminated.”

About The Author

LAEZMAN is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at [email protected]

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