Berkeley pushes PG&E to bury power lines to mitigate wildfire risk

(UI) — Berkeley city officials are pressing Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to include their city in a plan to underground 10,000 miles of power lines in regions with the highest fire danger, The Berkeley Scanner reported.

In April, Berkeley officials sent a letter to PG&E, reiterating a request first formalized in a January vote by the Berkeley City Council. The proposal focuses on Berkeley's "Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone," which includes Panoramic Hill and the northeast Berkeley Hills, areas where undergrounding power lines could significantly reduce wildfire risks and facilitate safer evacuations during emergencies, according to The Berkeley Scanner.

A California Senate bill passed in 2023 has allocated federal funds for projects to underground utility lines, as noted in the city council's resolution. The resolution highlighted that the northeast Berkeley Hills were identified in a 2019 Associated Press analysis as among the most difficult areas in the state for evacuation due to population density.

Officials have pointed out that undergrounding power lines is a highly effective way to reduce wildfire risk. Efforts to bury utility wires in Berkeley have a long history, dating back to at least the 1970s. According to a 2018 city study, about 49% of Berkeley's 26 miles of arterial streets and approximately one-third of its 36 miles of collector streets have already been undergrounded.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who has been involved in this issue since 2008, told the Berkeley Scanner that the letter to PG&E was delayed but necessary. She noted that PG&E's initial undergrounding plans primarily target rural areas. However, Berkeley has secured funding for a mile of undergrounding work on Grizzly Peak, a project currently underway.

Wengraf celebrated this achievement, telling the Berkeley Scanner that residents had been waiting 32 years for such progress. She expressed a desire to see power lines buried throughout the entire city, acknowledging the challenge but emphasizing its importance. She mentioned that previous plans for "Rule 20A" projects to underground power lines had been disrupted when the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ended the program last year, with no replacement announced yet.

Wengraf, who will retire from her council position in November, remains hopeful and committed to advancing undergrounding efforts for the safety and resilience of Berkeley.

The story was originally published on The Berkeley Scanner.

Related News

From Archive


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}