July 22, 2021

The largest utility in California is planning to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in an effort to prevent fires in the drought-stricken state.

Pacific Gas & Electric said the move is intended to "further harden its system" to prevent accidental outbreaks of wildfires. Several fires in California have been attributed to PG&E equipment over the years.

"We want what all of our customers want: a safe and resilient energy system," utility CEO Patti Poppe said in a statement Wednesday.

"We have taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop."

The announcement came days after PG&E announced that damaged equipment may have led to the Dixie Fire, which has grown to 80,000 acres and is one of the state's largest. There, a PG&E employee found two blown fuses where a tree leaned into a conductor.

The Dixie Fire is burning in Butte County, where a PG&E equipment failure sparked the deadly Camp Fire in 2018.

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, told The San Francisco Chronicle that the move to bury lines should have been done a decade ago.

"This is basically another shuck-and-jive move to divert attention from the fact that they may have sparked the Dixie Fire," Court said.

In a call with reporters, Poppe described the plan as a "moonshot."

PG&E currently has 27,000 miles of buried power lines, but few are underground in high-risk fire areas. In those affected areas, the utility intends to bury 1,000 miles per year.

The cost of burying each mile of line is about $4 million. PG&E unsuccessfully applied for state aid for the project last year, which was then estimated to be $40 billion. Poppe expressed optimism that cost could be cut in half.