PG&E makes progress on goal to clear overhead electric lines

PG&E has a goal to clear 2,544 miles of overhead electric lines in 2019. 

When we caught up with PG&E in mid-November, the company was halfway there. By early December, they were just over 70 percent done. 

PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras met us at a project in Santa Rosa, where contractors were clearing large limbs from nearby power lines.

“Right now our goal at the beginning of the year was to finish vegetation work along 2,544 miles of overhead electric line.  And we are still planning to meet that goal,” said Contreras. 

Santa Rosa is one of the high risk areas where PG&E inspects lines and performs tree trimming work several times a year. Contreras said they have more than 6,000 personnel working on PG&E’s vegetation management program. 

There are more than 120 million trees in the service that have the potential of growing or falling into power lines. 

“We have enhanced our vegetation management program that goes beyond state vegetation and fire safety standards,” said Contreras.

In Oakland’s Trestle Glen neighborhood, a tree trimming crew used a crane to clear a hillside behind homes. Some neighbors said they understand the fire risk, but at the same time, don’t feel great about the results. 

Neighbors told us they recognize the fire risk, but they don’t feel great about the results. 

“I am not totally happy about it,” said Oakland resident Stuart Kendall. “Because now I have a barren hillside. And oak trees take a long, long time to grow.”

<”I don’t like it. It’s ugly. But I’d like it a lot worse if I didn’t have a house to come home to,” said neighbor Pax Sax. 

Sax has lived on the street more than 30 years. She believes PG&E is only taking this overgrowth issue seriously now because the company is under tremendous pressure . 
”No I don’t trust them,” said Sax. “They’ll do what they have to because they’re getting sued all over the place. But it’s always stupid short term thinking.”

We asked Sax if PG&E consistently sent trimmers to her property in the past.  “No,” said Sax. “They haven’t been here. I’ve been here 30 years. No never seen them here.”> 

A recent KTVU investigation found in just the past five years, PG&E equipment is suspected of sparking nearly 2,000 fires. The number one cause was vegetation contact. 

PG&E has spent 3 billion dollars on its vegetation management programs over the past ten years. But in a report this summer, a federal court monitor found PG&E overlooked thousands of trees, has not trained contractors properly, and has failed to keep adequate records. KTVU reached out to the California Public Utilities commission for a list of contractors, but we were told PG&E does not keep that information. 

We tried to speak with a foreman at the project in Santa Rosa, but we were told no by PG&E. Contreras said, ”I mean they’re busy working. They are in a work area. It’s not that we don’t want you to. This is a PG&E program and I’m a PG&E spokesperson talking about the program.”

PG&E has repeatedly blamed climate change for increased wildfires. Research shows a five-fold increase in burns due to warming temperatures across California. 

The company inspects more than 100-thousand miles of overhead power lines. more than half of the PG&E service territory lies in high fire danger areas.