PG&E announced it expects to bury 3,600 miles of powerlines over the next five years in areas of high risk of wildfires across Northern and Central California. The utility company’s ultimate goal is to have 10,000 miles of underground powerlines as part of a multibillion-dollar project.
PG&E Corporate Communications Representative Mayra Tostado told BenitoLink that San Benito County has communities that are high fire-threat areas, including San Juan Canyon.
“We are reviewing our electric assets in the county, as well as risk, reliability and other factors to determine potential locations for undergrounding,” Tostado said.
She added that more information on locations will be shared likely by Feb. 25 in its Wildfire Mitigation Plan.
According to the press release, PG&E will go from 70 miles of underground powerlines in 2021 to 1,200 miles in 2026. That includes 175 miles of undergrounding activities in 2022. It went on to state that the company estimates to cost $3.75 million per mile, but that it expects to reduce it by roughly 33% over the next five years through economies of scale.
“Undergrounding is a strong long-term solution for PG&E to reduce wildfire risk in certain parts of our service area,” said the company’s CEO Patricia Poppe.
PG&E said it will propose implementing this effort over the next five years in upcoming regulatory filings, including in its 2022 wildfire mitigation plan to be submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission on Feb. 25.
“As it selects specific locations for undergrounding in each county in high fire-risk areas, PG&E will engage customers and stakeholders and reviewing local and municipal plans,” the press release said.
It added that PG&E has formed an Undergrounding Advisory Group, which is made up of stakeholders representing the following sectors: environmental and land stewardship, environmental and social justice, access and functional needs, transportation, academia, agriculture, labor, utilities and telecoms, public safety and counties and tribes.
PG&E said IBEW and ESC, unions that represent PG&E employees, support this effort, that it has a robust supply chain, and that it looks forward to scaling this work with the vendors and suppliers. It also said the company will inform customers and property owners in advance of any work taking place on their property.
In addition to burying powerlines, PG&E said it plans to install more microgrids to replace overhead power lines in remote areas exposed to high wildfire risks, building on a project completed in Briceburg, Ca, near Yosemite National Park, in 2021. According to the release, that project relied on a combination of solar power, lithium-ion batteries and propane-fueled generators to create a community microgrid instead of rebuilding distribution lines destroyed in a 2019 blaze.
“We can eliminate the trade-off between being safe and having power. That’s the future,” said Poppe.
Undergrounding, microgrids, vegetation management and other measures are aimed at reducing the impact of wildfire-related outages across the utility’s service territory. In 2021, more than 80,000 customers were impacted by public safety power shutoffs, down from 653,000 in 2020 and approximately two million in 2019, PG&E said.
“We’re a safer company because of the improvements we’ve made in the past five years,” the CEO said.