PG&E on Wednesday announced sweeping plans to lay thousands of miles of power lines underground to reduce the likelihood of devastating and deadly wildfires in northern and central California.
The utility made the announcement even as the Dixie Fire continued to roar through Butte County, a fire that may have been caused by PG&E’s power tools touching a tree more than a week ago.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Dixie Fire had scorched 85,500 acres in the rough terrain, according to a post on the Cal Fire website. The fire was brought under control by 15%.
“We want all of our customers to want a safe and resilient energy system,” PG&E Chief Executive Officer Patti Pope said on Wednesday. “We have taken a stand that the devastating wildfires will stop.”
PG&E has been grappling with years of wildfires that sparked a decade of disasters that morphed into a financial burden that eventually drove the embattled utility into bankruptcy.
The cost could be significant, PG&E officials acknowledged, when asked about the cost of undergrounding 10,000 miles of power lines.
“We see a potential range of $15 billion to $20 billion as a starting point,” Pope said in response to a question during a news briefing.
Ultimately, utility raters are likely to pay the bill for these massive upgrades, the company said, whether PG&E will seek approval from the state public utility commission for more revenue from customers.
“That’s right,” the pope said when asked if the monthly bills could be increased.