Higher costs delay undergrounding power lines, officials say | TheUnion.com

Higher costs delay undergrounding power lines, officials say

With PG&E Public Safety Power Shut-off season already underway — and activists making motions in court and among the trees to keep more than 260 trees from being cut as part of the utility company’s vegetation management plan — some residents are wondering why power lines have remained above ground in the first place.

Under the California Public Utility Commission’s electricity rule 20A, utility companies are supposed to earmark $1 per month charged to customers to help fund undergrounding projects that reduce fire danger and service interruptions.

However, an audit last year found the company diverted more than $120 million away from the program, which increased wait times and costs.

PG&E representatives have said increased costs are why undergrounding in Nevada City has been delayed. Additionally the time it would take to complete an undergrounding project would not make it ideal for keeping service in the city during this fire season.

In January, Nevada City estimated the costs for its share of a project to underground lines around upper Broad Street would be just under $1 million. It was shy of that sum by $200,000, and asked Nevada County to help them pay for the rest.

City officials did not respond to questions about the county’s response to their request.

In an ongoing effort to find alternatives to PG&E’s tree cutting plan, citizen group Save Nevada County Trees met with county and city staff this week.

“The most positive part of the conversation was about undergrounding,” said Matt Osypowski, organizer for the group. “I think it could solve a lot of the long-term problems with a difficult balancing act of trying to maintain the beauty of the town and the trees that are here while also preventing any fire that could be caused by a tree impacting a line.”

While no definite plans came out of the meeting, Nevada City Mayor Erin Minett said negotiations with PG&E and the county have continued, and officials have reached out to their congressional representative for additional funding.

In March, county officials asked the CPUC to step in to help them get PG&E to pay their share of undergrounding costs for the Combie and Magnolia roads utility district totaling more than $650,000 that were delinquent for over a year. County officials said the company has since paid for those costs.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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