By Kyle Barnett, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

July 22, 2021

The largest utility in California is planning to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in an effort to prevent fires in the drought-stricken state.

Pacific Gas & Electric said the move is intended to "further harden its system" to prevent accidental outbreaks of wildfires. Several fires in California have been attributed to PG&E equipment over the years.

"We want what all of our customers want: a safe and resilient energy system," utility CEO Patti Poppe said in a statement Wednesday.

"We have taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop."

The announcement came days after PG&E announced that damaged equipment may have led to the Dixie Fire, which has grown to 80,000 acres and is one of the state's largest. There, a PG&E employee found two blown fuses where a tree leaned into a conductor.

The Dixie Fire is burning in Butte County, where a PG&E equipment failure sparked the deadly Camp Fire in 2018.

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, told The San Francisco Chronicle that the move to bury lines should have been done a decade ago.

"This is basically another shuck-and-jive move to divert attention from the fact that they may have sparked the Dixie Fire," Court said.

In a call with reporters, Poppe described the plan as a "moonshot."

PG&E currently has 27,000 miles of buried power lines, but few are underground in high-risk fire areas. In those affected areas, the utility intends to bury 1,000 miles per year.

The cost of burying each mile of line is about $4 million. PG&E unsuccessfully applied for state aid for the project last year, which was then estimated to be $40 billion. Poppe expressed optimism that cost could be cut in half.