In June, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced that it would begin moving 10,000 miles of power lines underground to reduce instances of wildfires. The project, valued at $15 billion to $30 billion, will begin in California.
PG&E faced billions of dollars in fines and lawsuits due to the role that its aboveground power lines played in numerous wildfires in recent years. Meeting their goal of moving 10,000 miles of power lines safely underground could take up to 10 years.
Aboveground power lines have played an unfortunately significant role in wildfires, particularly in California. PG&E already announced in August 2021 a list of wildfire prevention technologies it would be investing in, such as underground power lines and clean energy. That same year, Congress passed and updated tax legislation for energy-generating organizations, including clean energy projects.
As a result, PG&E has been under pressure to update aging utility infrastructure which, at this point, is putting people in danger. Wildfires in California have caused immense amounts of damage, ruining thousands of properties and even resulting in injuries and death. California residents have spoken out about the economic damages, too, estimated to be almost $150 billion, with local businesses losing weeks or months of revenue due to evacuations and damages.
Burying power lines is expected to reduce ignition risk by 99%, according to PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras. PG&E plans to bury an average of 1,200 miles of power lines per year over the next 10 years, beginning with the most high-risk areas. It will cost about $3.75 million per mile to make the transition belowground power lines. However, Contreras did note that PG&E expects that cost will come down to about $2.5 million per mile in later stages of the project.
By burying power lines, PG&E will prevent instances such as trees falling into aboveground power lines or malfunctioning power equipment, both of which can ignite fires. Dry weather, high heat and intense winds also increase the risk of power lines starting wildfires. These weather patterns are on the rise due to climate change, so PG&E’s project is unlikely to be the last of its kind. In the years and decades ahead, more power lines are likely to be buried all over the world for the same reasons.
PG&E’s underground power lines will also be good for California residents. They will enhance the aesthetic of the California landscape by removing aboveground power infrastructure. Plus, belowground power lines are less likely to experience outages due to inclement weather knocking out overhead power lines and more.
While PG&E’s extensive underground power lines project will increase utilities prices for California residents, it will also drastically reduce the likelihood of devastating wildfires. As climate change threatens to make wildfires even more common and dangerous, it is crucial that organizations such as PG&E take action to protect residents, properties and ecosystems as much as possible.