California is beginning to bury its power lines to prevent wildfire


Etched in dirt, a narrow furrow is the only clue that the grasslands of Lime Ridge Open Space will soon be restored to their original splendor, cleared of dangerous power lines that could ignite nearby subdivisions.

The undergrounding project, costing $3.75 million a mile, represents the beginning of a 10,000-mile-long effort by Pacific Gas and Electric to bury the state’s distribution lines to cope with the growing risk of winds and wildfires linked to global warming.

“It is a one-time investment to eliminate essentially all ignition risk related to power lines, with the added benefit of reducing reliability issues,” said Jamie Martin, who oversees PG&E’s undergrounding initiative. “It’s permanent risk reduction.”

The utility long resisted calls to bury its power lines as being too costly.

But after its equipment was blamed for sparking a string of devastating wildfires in Northern California the past few years that have killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of homes, the company reversed its position. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019 after facing $30 billion in wildfire-related fines and liability, and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise.

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