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PG&E Announces Major Initiative To Bury Power Lines In Wildfire Areas

CHICO, Butte County  (CBS SF) -- Pacific Gas and Electric officials on Wednesday announced a multi-year effort to bury power lines in areas of California where the wildfire risk is the highest.

During a press conference in Butte County Wednesday morning, PG&E said the initiative would involve burying 10,000 miles of power lines during a ten-year period. It would represent the largest such effort in the U.S. to harden the system and mitigate wildfire risk.

"We want what all of our customers want: a safe and resilient energy system," PG&E CEO Patti Poppe said in a prepared statement. "We have taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop. We will partner with the best and the brightest to bring that stand to life. We will demand excellence of ourselves. We will gladly partner with policymakers and state and local leaders to map a path we can all believe in."

PG&E power line equipment has been blamed in a number of California wildfires in recent years, including the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County which killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

Blown fuses on a PG&E power line are being looked at a possible cause of the Dixie Fire burning in Butte and Plumas counties that has exploded in size to more than 85,000 acres as of Wednesday morning.

The costs of the wildfires led the utility into bankruptcy, billions of dollars in settlements and fines by the utility, prompted a board reorganization and increased regulation by the California Public Utilities Commission.

PG&E said it would work closely with customers and local, state, federal, tribal and regulatory officials throughout this new safety initiative.

Previous undergrounding of power lines has been done on a case-by-case basis and these projects have allowed PG&E to better understand the construction and cost requirements associated with the the new initiative announced Wednesday.

Following the October 2017 Northern California wildfires, PG&E completed undergrounding eight miles of power lines in the Larkfield Estates and Mark West Estates communities in Sonoma County in 2018.

PG&E is also burying all its power lines in the Town of Paradise following the Camp Fire and rebuilding power lines underground within the 2020 North Complex Fire footprint in Butte County.

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