Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) announced last week that it will put all electric distribution power lines underground in the Town of Paradise, California, and some of the surrounding areas as the town rebuilds from the Camp Fire.
The announcement was made by Aaron Johnson, vice president of electric operations at PG&E, at a special meeting of the town council.
“As part of our commitment to help this community recover and to harden our electric system to protect against wildfires, PG&E has decided to build our electric distribution system underground in the Town of Paradise and in some of the surrounding areas like parts of Magalia,” Johnson told the council. “We decided to rebuild in this way after a careful review of factors, town planning and safety considerations. This is just one of many ways we are trying to assist communities in their recovery.”
PG&E weighed many factors in its decision, with the goal of reducing wildfire risk, meeting the community’s desire for unobstructed egress and the town’s urban design process helping drive that decision. Paradise is well suited for the underground build as PG&E needs to replace 74 miles of damaged natural gas lines. This provides opportunities for joint trenching for both electric and gas infrastructure.
Due to the amount of engineering, design and construction, the underground rebuild will occur over five years. Engineering an underground system requires designing the system around existing water, natural gas and drainage systems, as well as planning for future road widening and the possibility of a sewer system for Paradise.
As PG&E rebuilds to underground the “backbone” of power lines serving Paradise it will simultaneously be installing temporary overhead service where needed to meet individual and neighborhood service as people rebuild and as it begins undergrounding electric service.
PG&E is still refining cost estimates for the undergrounding project, but the undergrounding will occur at no additional cost to the town as part of PG&E’s overall grid hardening efforts over the coming years. Transmission lines in Paradise will not be part of the project as these lines were not damaged in the fire.