PG&E has officially launched a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar project to put a portion of its transmission lines underground — having waited to do so until it faced multiple lawsuits and a bankruptcy following multiple devastating wildfires caused by its transmission lines.
How PG&E was able to get away with reaping profits off California consumers for decades while ignoring the fact that it had thousands of miles of fire-prone electrical lines running through forests is a crazy-making example of corporate greed and corruption. The company has to have known, long before the Tubbs Fire killed 22 people in 2017 and the Camp Fire killed 86 people in 2018, that its transmission lines were prone to sparking when trees knocked into them in high winds, but the enormous expense and enormous task of putting those lines underground kept them from publicly acknowledging those dangers until, literally, last year. Days after PG&E lines were implicated in yet another devastating and enormous wildfire, last summer’s Dixie Fire, the company announced plans to put 10,000 miles of power lines underground in the state’s most fire-prone areas.
“We have taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop,” said PG&E CEO Patti Pope at the time, in what stands as one of the most bizarro-world examples of crisis-PR stagecraft at work. “We will partner with the best and the brightest to bring that stand to life. We will demand excellence of ourselves.” Late last week, the company announced that the project of “undergrounding” those lines, as its called, had begun — and they would like us to know it will come at a cost of approximately $4 million per mile of line. Per Bay City News, the first phase of the project will involve the undergrounding of 3,600 miles of power lines, which if we do the math comes to $14.4 billion for this phase — and it’s not clear how long this phase will take. The project to put all 10,000 miles of line underground was estimated to be a ten-year project, PG&E said in July 2021.
The project is expected to be part of a wildfire mitigation plan that PG&E is due to the submit to the California Public Utilities Commission next week. PG&E estimates it will lose another $1 billion dealing with damages and lawsuits stemming from last year’s Dixie Fire. That comes on top of the lawsuits and claims still being settled from the 2017 and 2018 fires, which led to a 2019 bankruptcy, and the criminal prosecutions, including the manslaughter case from the Camp Fire to which PG&E pleaded guilty in March 2020. In other news, because it’s Valentine’s Day, PG&E is warning everyone to secure their mylar balloons with weights before giving them to loved ones. Flyaway metallic balloons hitting power lines are often implicated in power outages, and the company says that such balloon incidents were up 27 percent in 2021, causing 600 separate outages last year.