SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced plans Wednesday to put all electric distribution power lines underground in Paradise, the town devastated by California's deadliest wildfire.
The underground lines will be installed as PG&E rebuilds the entire power grid in Paradise. The electric company needs to replace 74 miles of damaged natural gas lines.
At a special meeting of the town council May 22, Aaron Johnson, vice president of electric operations at PG&E, said the underground distribution system will also be installed in some surrounding areas like parts of Magalia.
"We decided to rebuild in this way after a careful review of factors, town planning and safety considerations. This is just one of many ways we are trying to assist communities in their recovery," he said at the meeting.
In May, Cal Fire said the Camp Fire was caused by a high-voltage transmission line owned by PG&E near the town of Pulga.
PG&E will not bury the line that actually started the Camp Fire. Instead, it will bury the smaller distribution lines found on wooden poles running around Paradise neighborhoods. This will reduce wildfire risk in Paradise by eliminating the possibility of trees knocking into power lines and starting a fire.
But it is unlikely for PG&E to bury all of their 100,000 miles of power lines. Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, told ABC10 that project could cost $100 billion. He said it would make people safer, but it wouldn't necessarily give them resiliency.
"When underground power lines go out of service, when they break, or something happens to them and power is cut off, it takes a long time to find the break and repair it. So it means you may have three weeks of downtime rather than 48 hours," Picker said.
PG&E is still assessing cost estimates for the underground project. The Town of Paradise will not have to pay for the overhaul. As the company begins putting electric service underground, it will also install temporary overhead service to meet individual and neighborhood service as people rebuild.
The conversion to underground lines will happen over a five-year period.