Fires Force Utility to bury 10,000 miles of power lines |
CHICO, California, July 21, 2021 (ENS) – Pacific Gas and Electric Company, PG&E, is implementing a new initiative to expand burial of power distribution lines in high-risk fire districts. The goal is to further strengthen its system and help prevent wildfires like the 2018 camp fire that forced the utility to file for bankruptcy and reorganize.
The new infrastructure security initiative, announced today in Butte County by Patti Poppe, CEO of PG&E Corporation, is a multi-year effort to bury 10,000 miles of power lines.
PG&E’s commitment represents the largest effort in the United States to place power lines underground as a forest fire risk reduction measure.
“We want what all of our customers want: a secure and resilient energy system. We have taken a stand to stop the catastrophic forest fires. We will partner with the best and the brightest to bring this booth to life. We will demand excellence from ourselves. We will be happy to partner with policy makers and state and local leaders to chart a path we can all believe in, ”said Poppe.
In addition to reducing the risk of forest fires, landfilling benefits customers by reducing the need for public safety power outages, which are called as a last resort in dry and windy weather to reduce the risk of vegetation entering. in contact with live power lines and started a forest fire.
Landfilling also relieves the need for vegetation management efforts, leaving more California trees standing.
PG&E is a combined natural gas and electricity utility serving more than 16 million people over 70,000 square miles in northern and central California.
Today, PG&E maintains more than 25,000 miles of overhead distribution power lines in the areas most threatened by fires – Level 2, Level 3 and Zone 1 – representing more than 30 percent of its total overhead distribution system.
To underline the scope of this enormous task, PG&E claims that 10,000 miles of PG&E power lines is about the distance of 11 round trips from Chico to Los Angeles or almost half the world.
The exact number of projects or underground kilometers each year through PG&E’s new expanded landfill program will evolve as PG&E conducts a project scope study and inspections, estimation and technical review.
PG&E will engage customers and stakeholders when developing a plan and reviewing possible additional underground sites based on various factors including local municipal planning and safety considerations.
Engineering an underground electrical system requires designing the system around existing water, natural gas and drainage systems, as well as planning for future road widening. PG&E intends to work closely with customers and local, state, federal, tribal and regulatory officials throughout this new security initiative.
In the past, burial was done on a selective basis, on a case-by-case basis, and largely for reasons other than reducing the risk of forest fires. But following the breakthroughs PG&E has made on underground projects in recent years, undergrounding power lines can now play a much larger role in PG&E’s continued efforts to strengthen the power grid.
Following the devastating October 2017 wildfires in Northern California and the 2018 Camp Fire, PG&E began to assess the relocation of underground overhead power lines as a wildfire safety measure, and carried out demonstration projects as part of PG&E community forest fire safety programs:
- – From 2018 to 2020, PG&E completed several demonstration projects aimed at converting overhead power lines to underground lines in high fire risk areas of Alameda, Contra Costa, Nevada and Sonoma counties.
- – In 2019, PG&E announced that it will be rebuilding all of its underground power lines in the town of Paradise as it helps the community recover from the campfire that burned down the county town of Butte in November 2018.
- The company is also rebuilding underground power lines in the footprint of the 2020 North Complex fire in Butte County.
Through these demonstration projects and reconstruction efforts, PG&E has been able to refine the construction and cost requirements associated with targeted landfill, allowing the acceleration and expansion of landfill projects.
In addition to expanding its underground work, PG&E performs ongoing safety work as outlined in the utility’s 2021 forest fire mitigation plan. Learn more about PG&E’s forest fire safety efforts by visiting pge.com/wildfiresafety.
Forest fire threat intensifies as climate warms
California faces an ever-growing threat of catastrophic wildfires, extreme weather and higher temperatures, recognizes PG&E. Recent state and federal climate assessments warn of the growing threat.
California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment found that the average area burned statewide would increase by 77% if greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise. The assessment also indicated that prolonged drought and higher temperatures would triple the frequency of forest fires.
Multiple factors contribute to the risk of forest fires in the PG&E service area. These include massive tree mortality following a historic five-year drought. The fire season is now extended due to prolonged periods of high temperatures, extreme drought, dry grass and record winds that increase the number of forest fires and make them more dangerous.
More than half of PG&E’s service area is in extreme or high fire risk areas, as designated by the California Public Utilities Commission Fire Threat Map.
If you smell natural gas, see downed power lines, or suspect another emergency, immediately leave the area and dial 9-1-1. Then call PG&E at 1-800-743-5000. Never approach or touch downed power lines.
The selected image: A transmission tower carrying a power line feeding California sits in the path of the Carr Fire near Redding in the Central Valley of California, August 22, 2018. (Photo by Western Area Power Administration)
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