Should The U.S. Bury Its Power Lines?

Burying power lines is an expensive but sure-fire way to practically eliminate the risk of utility-caused wildfires, which have devastated towns across California. PG&E, the nation’s largest utility, has been found liable for numerous wildfires in the state. In an effort to prevent future disasters, the utility is planning to underground 10,000 miles of distribution lines in fire-prone areas, including 2,100 miles through 2026. But it’s not cheap. PGE’s plan would likely cost tens of billions of dollars, to be paid for by customers through their utility bills. This is causing some to advocate for cheaper, alternate options such as insulating power lines, though PG&E maintains that undergrounding is by far the safer bet. The path forward will be at least partially determined in November, when PG&E’s regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, votes on the utility’s proposed four-year budget.