Burying high-risk power lines carry high costs for customers

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) plans to unveil a proposed decision concerning PG&E's requested rate hikes.

The utility company says the increases are crucial as it aims to bury 10,000 miles of power lines as a preventative measure against wildfires in high-risk regions. This increase is substantial.

"The decision that the CPUC is about to make, PG&E could raise your monthly bill $50 or more a month," said Mark Toney, the executive director of The Utility Reform Network (TURN).

Over the lifetime of the decision —  up to 20 years — TURN calculates that each customer's portion could be around $18,000.

Dissatisfied customer Christian Llamas said, "We already paid for it. They want to raise more on it? Come on man. People are out here struggling on bills. It makes no sense."

To save ratepayers money, some utility companies have opted to leave power lines elevated.  However, they have chosen to replace their power lines with combustible poles that have an insulated system.

"It's way cheaper. We're talking about a fifth of the cost, twenty percent of the cost," said Toney.

This insulated system employs wires enveloped in intricate layers of non-conductive material, mounted on steel or concrete poles to enhance fire resistance, reduce the risk of lines collapsing, and minimize arcing.

"It's always good to empower people to make that decision for themselves to have it insulated. But for PG&E to make that decision for us, you know, increasing it up to $50 a month, it doesn't sit well with anybody," said customer Jacob Romero.


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Added customer Joshua Mata, "I think that they should be making sure they look into all the different alternatives before making such a drastic decision that affects our lives."

Over the past decade, TURN says that Southern California Edison has installed 5000 miles of insulated power lines overhead. Thus far, PG&E has buried roughly 300 miles of power lines, incurring a cost of about $3 million per mile.

"The insulating of those lines is way better for consumers. It's way better for wildfire safety, and it's just gonna be done safer and cheaper," said Toney.