Despite years of declaring that conversion of high-voltage, long-distance electrical transmission lines to underground installation was cost prohibitive, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has announced plans to spend $20 billion over 10 years to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in wildfire-prone areas of California.
The move comes after PG&E filed a preliminary report with the California Utilities Commission noting that the Dixie Fire, which so far has decimated 460,000 acres in Northern California, may have been ignited by a blown fuse on one of its utility poles. The utility company has been linked to multiple fires in California and pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Camp Fire.
According to Samuel Ariaratnam, a nationally recognized expert in trenchless technology and a professor and Beavers-Ames Chair in heavy construction at Arizona State University, utility companies are beginning to move their power lines underground, but none have contemplated a project on the scale of the PG&E announcement.
“This action taken by PG&E, while motivated by tragic circumstances, highlights the importance of adopting advanced new technologies despite the initial expense,” said Ariaratnam. “Over time, those upfront expenses will pay dividends in diminished maintenance, repair and replacement costs. Most importantly, it will save communities and lives, not only from wildfires, but from other catastrophic events like ice storms, hurricanes and tornados.”