A week after a new wildfire appears to have been potentially sparked by a tree hitting PG&E transmission lines in Butte County, the company gave a press conference to announce a ten-year plan to bury 10,000 miles of power lines.
As KPIX reports, the press conference was held in Butte County, where anger and sadness remain raw from the November 2018 Camp Fire, which was also sparked by PG&E lines during high-wind event. The multi-year initiative would focus on putting lines underground in the areas of the state with the highest risk of wildfire.
"We want what all of our customers want: a safe and resilient energy system,” PG&E CEO Patti Poppe said in a 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.”
Excellence! What a change.
The Dixie Fire now burning in Butte and Plumas counties has grown to 85,500 acres, more than double the 30,000 acres burned as of Monday morning. It is now 15% contained.
It was sparked on the afternoon of July 13, and as PG&E reported to regulators on Sunday, a repairman was sent to the area to investigate a power outage and observed a couple of blown fuses in an area near Cresta Dam, northeast of Pulga. When he got closer to the utility pole in question, he saw a tree leaning into it, and a fire burning at the base of the tree.
Critics of PG&E have for years said that the company has done much to obstruct and defer safety measures like this and necessary maintenance to its power grid.
As former CPUC Commissioner Mark Ferron told Frontline last year, "On a scale from one to 10, where 10 is really obstructive and zero is completely cooperative, I would have put PG&E at a nine."
And LA County Deputy Fire Chief John Todd, who sat in on years of CPUC hearings with PG&E, put it this way: "Deflect, delay, defer … we would joke that these were the rules of utility rulemaking. There was just no movement. It felt [like] they were just going to run out the clock on you."
Rather than talking about widespread undergrounding, a PG&E spokesperson gave a statement to Frontline about how the company was replacing conventional lines with so-called "tree wire" that is less likely to spark fires.
PG&E says that previous undergrounding work that was done on a case-by-case basis has helped them understand the costs associated with it, and will inform this larger project. The company says it will work closely with customers and local, state, federal, tribal and regulatory officials as the process moves forward.
Photo: Jael Vallee