PG&E’s new $6 billion wildfire mitigation plan calls for more underground power lines in North Bay

The utility will bury close to 72 miles of power lines in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Marin and Mendocino counties as it spends $5.9 billion statewide this year to reduce the risk of wildfires tied to its grid.|

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will bury close to 72 miles of electrical lines in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Marin and Mendocino counties, part of its $5.9 billion spending plan for this year to reduce the wildfire risks presented by its sprawling power grid.

The 2022 wildfire mitigation plan, filed Friday with the state Public Utilities Commission, outlines PG&E’s efforts to ensure “safe, reliable and affordable energy amid a changing climate and evolving wildfire threat,” according to a news release that accompanied the filing.

The more than 1,000-page document, an annual filing required by the state, outlines both the utility’s immediate steps and long-term efforts to reduce risks of catastrophic fires tied to its equipment.

Amid the onslaught of global climate change, the utility has been blamed for a growing number of destructive and deadly infernos that have devastated communities from the Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada over the past decade. Its liabilities from the 2017 North Bay fires and the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County led the utility to declare bankruptcy in 2019.

A succession of top executives, under orders from judges and state regulators, have pledged to do ever more — and at greater cost to ratepayers — to address the utility’s role in California’s wildfire crisis.

“PG&E has taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop,“ CEO Patti Poppe said in a Friday news release.

By 2022, the utility will have spent $15 billion on wildfire mitigation, according to its Friday filing with the Public Utilities Commission.

In addition to its plans to bury more power lines underground, the company this year will install more high-definition wildfire alert cameras and weather stations and expand technologies that automatically shut off power when trees or branches fall onto electrical lines.The company also intends to conduct brush clearance along 1,800 miles of lines in high fire-risk areas across its territory in Northern and Central California.

In part to pay for wildfire mitigation work, but also to cover a range of grid maintenance and upgrades, PG&E submitted a proposed rate increase to the CPUC last June that would raise the average consumer’s bill by about $1 per day from 2023-2026.

To cover the wildfire mitigation work, customers will see their electricity bills increase a little more than $6 a month in 2022 compared to the previous year’s bills, according to PG&E officials.

The wildfire plan filed includes a more ambitious schedule for mitigation work but does not spell significant changes to the 2023 rate change case. Still, the corporation did not rule out further cost increases for consumers.

PG&E aims to bury 175 miles of power lines across its service territory this year and a total of 3,600 miles by 2026, representing an accelerated pace over last year, when it buried 22 miles in five Northern California counties.

Last year, Poppe pledged the utility would bury about 10,000 miles of power lines in the coming years. She made the July announcement as the Dixie fire tore across the Sierra Nevada, burning 960,000 acres and more than 1,300 homes. The fire, the second largest on record in California, was caused by a tree hitting PG&E power lines, state investigators later ruled.

The company will also install 98 wildfire cameras this year and build 100 new weather stations. PG&E has installed 502 cameras since 2018, the company stated. With the additional stations, the utility will have a weather station every 20 miles along its lines through high fire-risk areas.

Utility officials published the mitigation plan as the company navigates legal cases in state and federal courtrooms across California. In Sonoma County this week, PG&E lawyers indicated to a criminal court judge that they are nearing a deal with county prosecutors who charged the company with 30 criminal counts over the 2019 Kincade fire.

The company faces another forthcoming criminal prosecution in Shasta County over the deadly 2020 Zoggs fire. In June 2020, PG&E accepted a plea deal in Butte County for its role in starting the Camp fire, which killed 84 people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California has also launched an investigation into the Dixie fire.

The utility emerged from bankruptcy in July 2020, but it continues to amass huge liabilities tied to wildfires, including an estimated $2 billion combined for the Kincade, Dixie and Zoggs fires.

In January, the federal judge who oversaw the company’s probation stemming from the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline blast gave a scathing review of the utility, which he said had been on a “crime spree” and represented “a continuing menace to California.”

Over a five-year period that began in 2016, “PG&E has been blamed for at least 31 wildfires,” Northern California District Court Judge William Alsup wrote in a Jan. 19 court filing.

“Those fires burned nearly one and one-half million acres, burned 23,956 structures, and killed 113 Californians,” Alsup wrote as he released the utility from federal probation.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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