PG&E Pledges to Move Paradise Power Lines Underground

California is seriously considering implementation of this tactic — which is commonplace in Europe — in high-fire risk areas.

As Paradise continues the long rebuilding process after the devastating Camp Fire, they can count on one big thing to change: power lines underground, shielded from fire-sparking wind.

PG&E told Paradise residents at a town meeting on Wednesday night that they would move the city’s power lines underground, the Paradise Post reports. The utility has 74 miles of power lines to rebuild and promised it would start within weeks, to cheers of residents.

Moving power lines underground is an expensive task, but its increasingly considered worth the cost in the face of California’s wildfires. Paradise is one of the easier places to begin the work, since PG&E will have to dig underground to rebuild lines either way. Utility officials expect it to take five years.

Cal Fire officially declared last week that PG&E lines sparked the Camp Fire in Butte County. The blaze killed 85 people, many who were seniors, and burned 18,804 structures across more than 150,000 acres. 

PG&E tested the practice in November by beginning to install power lines underground in Sonoma County, the Press Democrat reported. The utility estimated that doing so in the highest risk areas would cost $20 billion — a sizable cost, but not larger its $27 billion estimated liability for wildfires the past couple years. 

While PG&E has about 18 percent of its lines underground, Europe has about 41 percent of distribution lines below the surface, according to Bloomberg. Because the region uses less costly methods of installation and more customers in densely populated areas, it’s a more of an industry norm — one that California is catching up to as it seeks to prevent destructive wildfires.

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