California regulators greenlight program to accelerate electric infrastructure undergrounding

(UI) — The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has introduced a new initiative aimed at accelerating the undergrounding of electric distribution infrastructure across the state. This program, mandated by Senate Bill (SB) 884, targets increased system resilience and climate adaptation.

Under the program, large investor-owned utilities (IOUs) such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric will submit comprehensive 10-year undergrounding plans to the CPUC and the Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety (Energy Safety) for evaluation.

Key elements of the program include a two-phase approval process. In Phase I, Energy Safety reviews the submitted plans within nine months, assessing their potential to enhance reliability and mitigate wildfire risk. Phase II involves CPUC review and potential conditional approval of costs, with strict conditions imposed to ensure cost-effectiveness and ratepayer protection.

Once approved, utilities will commence construction under rigorous oversight, with progress monitored by an independent monitor selected by Energy Safety. The program also mandates periodic audits to ensure accountability and cost efficiency.

Commissioners Darcie L. Houck and John Reynolds emphasized the program's alignment with the state's wildfire risk reduction goals and commitment to grid reliability. They underscored the importance of implementing SB 884 to enhance safety while ensuring prudent expenditure of resources.

The decision to launch this program follows extensive stakeholder engagement, including public workshops and rounds of feedback. Through collaborative efforts, the CPUC aims to incorporate diverse perspectives and promote transparency and inclusivity in program implementation.

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