Pacific Gas & Electric came out last week with a cost estimate for the first phase of its plan to put thousands of miles of power lines underground, ballparking it at $9 billion to $13.5 billion according to the San Jose Mercury News for the first 3,600 miles of lines it wants to bury by 2026. Last July, PG&E announced the plan to bury 10,000 miles of lines in total as part of its effort to address wildfires started by equipment it owned, among them the 2021 Dixie Fire that burned almost a million acres in the Sierra Nevada and the 2018 Camp Fire, which left the town of Paradise in ashes. The utility will ultimately have to submit its plan to the California Public Utilities Commission for approval before moving ahead with it, and it’s possible that the plan PG&E shows up with is different from what the regulator ultimately approves, but there’s no denying the sheer scale of the operation they’ll be undertaking in order to accomplish this goal. So, where do you even start with burying 10,000 miles of power lines? What are the economic, environmental and engineering challenges PG&E will have to navigate? And what are the tradeoffs to having power lines buried as opposed to suspended in the air?
Listen to Ted Kury’s presentation below (starting at 29:53), on Spotify, or at KPCC.