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Wildfires Prompt Undergrounding of Power Lines

Further inquiry
leads us to also
suspect animals ..


Placing power lines underground was thought to be a good idea for the sake of safety and aesthetics.[1] [2] [3]  Now, the continuous upsurge of wildfires, such as in California, will encourage this practice even further.

As of October 2nd in California, 8,155 fires have burned over 4 million acres of land.  That makes year 2020 the largest wildfire season ever recorded in California’s modern history.

While California continues to make headlines, five other states have broken records in the past several years including Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Nevada.  In the U.S, there is an average of 64,100 wildfires annually and an average of 6.8 million acres burned each year.

Wind drives a wildfire near power lines in Sylmar, California.  {Market Watch - Assoc Press}


It has been determined that one of the causes of wildfires are power lines.  For instance in California, it is claimed Pacific Gas & Electric Company power lines have caused more than 1,500 wildfires in the past six years.  The causes are downed lines from natural causes, trees falling or blowing onto power lines, or something known as “conductor slap”.  Conductor slap can occur in unusual circumstances where parallel lines contact each other (slap together) causing high-energy arcing.  Another cause is apparatus failure of switches, insulators, or transformers.  A typical circuit may have thousands of these components making it nearly impossible to check every component on a regular basis.  Experience has taught us that these type of electrical components eventually fail.  

Further inquiry leads us to also suspect animals which climb trees and fall onto power lines to spark a wildfire.   An example is the Bobcat Fire of the central San Gabriel Mountains (Antelope Valley, CA) which began September 6th for reasons still unexplained.  It has burned close to 115,000 acres and is still burning (89% contained).

If wildfires are destroying homes and building structures, ending lives and causing harmful smoke, the issue put to question is:  Why can't we bury power lines underground ?

The immediate response to this question is:  Expense.  It will cost an estimated $3 million per mile to convert overhead lines to underground lines, and a company such as PG&E in California has 81,000 miles of overhead distribution lines that could take 1000 years to convert.

But that is only the first response to a disaster condition when citizens and workers are fraught with anguish.

When taking a closer look, most of PG&E’s overhead power lines are not located in what are known as High Fire Threat Districts - or HFTDs - and only 25,200 miles are actually located in these fire-prone areas.

Most lines in HFTD areas are in rural or suburban areas, not urban; and the cost to underground lines in these areas are significantly cheaper than urban areas because of “fewer obstacles and more unpaved rights-of-way” (less paved roads to dig out and replace).

According to two pilot programs performed by PG&E over the past two years, a 0.5 mile stretch of the Bohemian Hwy cost $2.8 million per mile and a 0.66 mile stretch of Fish Ranch Road cost $1.2 million per mile.  This is less than the $3 million per mile prediction.

.. the U.S. is out-of-date compared to other countries ..

                  Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) installs conduits in trenches for underground power lines in Paradise, CA.  {AFP-Getty}

Another recommendation is that the U.S. should study the Europe situation since they were able to underground power lines for less money.  It is explained that the U.S. has an older “physical plant” which is all its infrastructure needed to operate facilities and plant operations to make an electrical power network (“power grid”) and generate electricity.  This was “put-to-the pedal” and accomplished on a major scale in the 1930s.  In Europe, most of the physical plants were destroyed during the war of 1940 and replaced afterwards during the post-war period.  At that time, technology advanced and undergrounding of power lines became a feasible practice.

Put simply, the U.S. is out-of-date compared to other countries in respect to its physical plant.  But this condition occurred out of social consequence, and the wise entrepreneur could question this puzzling paradox as to why the U.S. is actually behind other countries in a rather demanding technology.

1.  The World We Live In, 5/14/14           
2.  The World We Live In - Part II, 5/21/14
3.  The World We Live In - Part III, 5/29/14

This is less than the $3 million per mile prediction.