PG&E releases new plan on 2022 wildfire safety

The utility aims to reduce wildfire risk

Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. (PG&E) filed its 2022 Wildfire Mitigation Plan with California regulators Friday and announced plans to "significantly accelerate the undergrounding of power lines in high fire-risk areas." 

In a press release, the company said it is aiming to bury "at least 175 miles of power lines" this year and that it plans to further increase the pace to have approximately 3,600 miles underground by 2026. 

PG&E wrote that the wildfire risk reduction measure reduces the need for trimming and removing trees and reduces the costs of vegetation management work over time. 

PG&E'S CRIMINAL PROBATION TO END AMID ONGOING SAFETY WORRIES

The company also said it would move to expand its Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings program in order to reduce the risk of ignitions from its electric equipment in the short term, as well as improve public safety power shutoffs (PSPS events), situational awareness and forecasting and vegetation management.

Additional "longer-term solutions" include grid design, system hardening and asset management and inspections. 

"PG&E has taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop, and our Wildfire Mitigation Plan for 2022 details the work we are doing right now to make that stand a reality," PG&E CEO Patti Poppe said in a statement. "Undergrounding power lines and expanding Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings represent the best mix of long- and near-term solutions to make it safer every day for our hometowns, while keeping our customers’ energy costs and bills as low as possible."

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
PCG PG&E CORP. 16.28 -0.32 -1.93%

According to The Sacramento Bee, PG&E's wildfire safety budget for 2022 is expected to hit $5.96 billion, up from nearly $4.9 billion last year. 

Wildfire damages previously drove PG&E into bankruptcy in 2019, and the nation's largest utility has been blamed for more than 30 wildfires that killed more than 100 people since 2017.

It faces more criminal charges in two separate cases for a Sonoma County, California, wildfire in 2019 and a Shasta County fire in 2020. PG&E has denied any criminal wrongdoing in those fires. 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ON FOX BUSINESS

While on five years of criminal probation, PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter for a 2018 wildfire that wiped out the town of Paradise. 

Regulators from the Golden State have already linked PG&E to the massive Dixie Fire in 2021, which burned 963,309 acres.

Dixie fire

A PG&E truck passes the line of the Dixie Fire near Taylorsville, California, Aug. 10, 2021.  (REUTERS/David Swanson)

These changes, the company said, come in response to the state's "unprecedented increases in the wildfire risk as a result of drought and the ongoing impacts of climate change."

"For example, on non-Red Flag Warning (RFW)3 days in 2021, there was a more than 500% increase in acreage burned as compared to the average acreage in the prior four years," the utility said in its report

"Simply put, the wildfire threat is growing, and it is PG&E’s mission to reduce the risk of this threat to keep our customers and communities safe. This means our programs must evolve commensurate with the risks,"  

California officials are bracing for another dangerous wildfire season, and a recent study found the ongoing 22-year drought in the western U.S. marks the driest period in more than 1,200 years.

The release said funding for these initiatives are addressed, in part, in the 2023 General Rate Case, which was submitted with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). 

GET FOX BUSINESS ON THE GO BY CLICKING HERE

"Even with the improved risk reduction, GRC-related combined bill impact estimates for customers remain essentially flat over the 2023-2026 period compared to PG&E’s original June 30, 2021 GRC proposal," it said.

The Bee reported that the rate case is a proposed 5% rate hike to customers' bills through 2026.

PG&E provides natural gas and electric service to approximately 16 million customers throughout northern and central California.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.