10/6/21 The debate on whether to bury power lines continues to gain attention. Proponents say burying lines protects them from weather-related damage while opponents counter that the cost is too prohibitive, and that it would be a regulatory nightmare to get all the needed approvals.
Burying power lines has to be done on a case-by-case assessment. Places prone to flooding are not ideal, and accessing buried lines for repair are more costly than fixing above ground lines. Either way, a lot is at stake: to pay up front to go underground, or to have to suffer later when there are more crippling power outages.
The sentiment following major powers outages may be strongly for burying the cables, but seldom does it result in action ... until a company decides that it has no other choice. Pacific Gas & Electric, which has had horrendous problems from firestorms, announced in July that it plans to bury 10,000 miles of its power lines (about 10% of its total grid) at a projected cost of about $20 billion.
Per a report from the Institute for Energy Research, PG&E has more than eight million trees near the company’s power lines. PG&E plans to spend $1.4 billion this year to trim over a million trees and remove more than 300,000 of them. The company was scheduled to lay 70 miles of power lines underground this year, so 10,000 miles would be a mammoth task.
The timeline for laying the underground cable is projected at two years. PG&E's 16 million California customers, which already pay some of the highest electricity rates in the U.S., will likely will see their monthly bills go up. When this project is completed, it promises to be one of the largest case studies ever done.