PG&E's monumental effort to bury power lines gets underway

PG&E will spend years doing what many say should have been done long ago: bury power lines in the many areas across its territory to keep them from being knocked down and starting wildfires. 

When this is all done, PG&E will have buried 10,000 miles of power lines. 

Right smack dab in the middle of the Tubbs Fire burn path in the North Bay, PG&E, is in the opening phases of a massive program to bury power lines. 

The most critical lines in the riskiest fire threat areas will be buried first. 

"Undergrounding, obviously, is the best fire reduction tool we have because it reduces ignition by 99%," said PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras. 

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The is utility is starting out slow. then ramping up and racking up big miles. 

"This year 175 [miles], with 43 of those in the Bay Area and there's all kinds of projects going all around the Bay Area including here in Santa Rosa," said Contreras. 

Learning as they go, the cost is expected to drop. 

"It's a little over $3 million a mile but what we're hoping to do over the next five years is reduce that by a million dollars; get it somewhere around two million," said PG&E North Coast VP Ron Richardson.

Retired teacher Nancy Thomas has been through three wildfires that have swept through her property over the decades. 

"In the long run, it's going to be less money for PG&E. They won't have to be paying all these lawsuits like they are right now," said Thomas. 

Even though the power lines are waterproof and will have all kinds of other environmental protections, they'll still be buried inside this plastic conduit for two reasons, it's waterproof and in the event of an earthquake, very, very flexible. Intermittently, PG&E will also bury concrete junction boxes where the lines will be connected to make it easy for crews to fix breaks or dig-ins quickly to get power back on. 

"We'll cut the line from box to box, pull that line out, pull a brand new line in, so it will definitely speed up the restoration process where we don't have to use a backhoe to dig up the repair," said Richardson. 

"By 2026 we will be one-third done," said Contreras.

The total 10,000-mile project. all within PG&E territory, should be done four years after that. 

PG&E is burying so many lines, an airliner would need 17 hours to fly the distance non-stop. How far is 10,000 miles? It's the distance from San Francisco to Capetown, South Africa.