Pacific Gas and Electric Co. confirmed Oct. 11 that the utility is on track to put at least 350 miles of powerlines underground by the end of the year, achieving permanent wildfire risk reduction for this portion of its electric distribution system. Digging trenches and installing conduit, the piping that securely holds the electric lines in place when underground, is the most time- and labor-intensive portion of underground construction.
As of Oct. 11, undergrounding crews have completed 100 percent of that heavy construction work by digging 350 miles of trenches and laying 350 miles of conduit. After construction is complete, electric crews will then pull powerlines through the conduit, install additional electrical-system equipment, de-energize the overhead powerlines, and then energize the undergrounded lines.
As of Oct. 10, more than 137 miles of the 350 miles were fully energized. On average, about 20 more miles of undergrounded line will be energized each week through the end of the year.
“Our team has learned and accomplished so much in the past two and a half years since we announced our 10,000-mile undergrounding program,” said Peter Kenny, PG&E’s senior vice president of major infrastructure delivery, which includes undergrounding. “That learning equates to greater efficiency and means we’re able to safely put powerlines underground more quickly and reduce the cost per mile.”
PG&E plans to put 2,000 miles of lines underground between now and 2026, with the annual mileage increasing from 350 in 2023 to 750 in 2026. Based on those miles, PG&E anticipates the cost per mile of undergrounding will decrease from $3.3 million in 2023 to $2.8 million in 2026.
The California Public Utilities Commission will vote on undergrounding miles as early as Nov. 2 as part of the general rate case final decision. “The CPUC counterproposals fund as few as 200 miles over four years, not enough to keep our customers and hometowns safe,” said PG&E representative Paul Moreno. In 2021, PG&E announced that it would put 10,000 miles of powerlines underground to ensure permanent wildfire risk reduction in a way that mitigates the most risk and is most affordable in the long run, said Moreno. “Expanding our electric system underground in high fire risk areas will not only help reduce wildfires caused by equipment, but also will improve reliability and reduce the need for public safety power shutoffs and enhanced powerline safety settings.”
Wildfires affect all customers, regardless of whether they live near an actual fire zone, said Moreno. By undergrounding powerlines, all customers benefit from reducing all potential effects from ignitions. He reported that PG&E has more than 2,000 highly skilled, fully dedicated coworkers working every day on underground projects across its service area.
Kenny makes a strong case for the critical need for undergrounding. “Why are we putting lines underground? It provides permanent wildfire risk reduction for our customers and our hometowns and improves reliability,” he said. “And we’ve heard it loud and clear that customers want undergrounding.” Shasta County District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom agrees. “California has mismanaged our forests for three decades now. PG&E is taking steps to reduce wildfire risk by undergrounding powerlines, and the CPUC is discouraging that plan. My county knows the devastating impact of wildfires. The more miles of powerlines we can put underground, the more wildfire risk we can take away.”
Go to http://www.pge.com/undergrounding to see progress and learn more about this program.
Information submitted by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.