Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, which represents consumers before the California Public Utilities Commission and has often been an opponent of PG&E, said reducing the risk of wildfires was a priority, but the utility had to come up with a plan that would fund the huge project. without overburdening taxpayers. Based on the underground power line proposals that PG&E has already submitted to state regulators, the project could cost around $ 4 million per mile, or $ 40 billion in total, Toney said.
“We would live in a world where only the rich could afford electricity,” he said. “PG&E needs a plan to reduce as much risk as possible at the least possible cost to taxpayers. “
San José Mayor Sam Liccardo also questioned the ability to fund such an ambitious business without weighing down consumers. “If we assume that all PG&E taxpayers win the lottery at the same time, PG&E is right, we can do it,” said Liccardo, who sought unsuccessfully during the PG&E bankruptcy to transform the public service. into a cooperative rather than a public company. .
The Public Utilities Commission has said it will review the draft PG&E when the utility officially submits it for review, a process that would include public hearings.
Ms Poppe said the utility hopes to cut spending per mile enough to bring the overall cost to $ 15 billion to $ 20 billion. “We cannot put a price on risk reduction and safety,” she said. But she did not directly address the funding.
About 18% of the nation’s power distribution lines are buried underground, including those of almost all new residential and commercial developments, according to the Edison Electric Institute, an industry trade group.
PG&E has been at the center of the impact of climate change since a series of record-breaking wildfires began to burn across northern California in 2017, including several caused by utility equipment.