PG&E Corp. plans to invest $18 billion in wildfire prevention through 2025 following back-to-back seasons of devastating blazes linked to the utility’s network of wires and other equipment.
PG&E will bury more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) of wires, install stronger utility poles, trim trees and repair equipment, it said in a statement on Monday.
The company will continue to cut off power to lines struck by tree limbs and resort to preemptive blackouts during exceptionally dry and windy conditions, according a plan filed with a California energy-safety agency.
Wildfires and the resulting criminal and civil liabilities have weighed heavily on PG&E for years. Blazes sparked by the utility’s power lines and equipment that killed scores of people and destroyed more than a million acres pushed the company into bankruptcy in 2019. Since then, regulators have required PG&E and other investor-owned utilities to submit detailed mitigation plans.
Edison International’s Southern California Edison also filed a wildfire-prevention proposal with the state on Monday, saying it will continue covering conductors and burying more lines in the highest-risk locations. Edison said it’s cut the probability of its equipment sparking conflagrations by as much as 80% since 2018.
PG&E, whose lines were blamed for California’s fiercest blazes for two years in a row, said it has reduced its wildfire risk by more than 90%.
PG&E Chief Operations Officer Sumeet Singh said if recent changes to safety operations had been in place in 2021 and 2022, those earlier blazes wouldn’t have started.
PG&E also will deploy new technology that can more easily detect a problem on a power line, Singh said. For the first time, the utility will use artificial intelligence to identify and respond to blazes, he added.
“The focus for us is that we’re going to continue to build upon the successes from last year, which really is centered around constructing, maintaining and operating our electric grid in a manner that minimizes the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” Singh said.
Photo: Firefighters work to extinguish a structure fire in the Montclair Hills neighborhood of Oakland, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. The preliminary cause of the fire was an overloaded generator, according to the Oakland Fire Department. PG&E Corp. cut power in the area to prevent live wires from falling into dry brush during the wind storms that have parts of the East Bay under a Red Flag Warning.
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