Senator McGuire. | File photo.

Press release from the Office of Sen. Mike McGuire:

For far too long, America’s largest utility – PG&E – has failed its customers and made California unsafe. For years, the utility underfunded modernization and wildfire safety efforts, which has had devastating impacts here in the Golden State.

PG&E has been charged with nearly 100 felonies in the deaths of California residents in wildfires they caused over the past 4 years. Californians have literally run for their lives while their homes burned to escape flames from PG&E-caused wildfires. Californians have sat in the dark with food spoiling in their warm refrigerators for days on end during wind-driven public safety power shutoffs, and they’ve been left without access to critical lifeline services when power lines go down.

This has been our reality for long enough.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Mike McGuire introduced a bill that will finally advance what should have been done years ago, undergrounding PG&E transmission and distribution lines in the most fire-prone zones.

SB 884 will provide a path to expedite undergrounding of 10,000 miles of PG&E utility lines in the highest fire risk zones, save ratepayers money, and hold PG&E accountable to their timelines. Currently, PG&E undergrounds less than 100 miles of their electrical lines annually.

Here’s what the bill will do:

· Mandated performance metrics would be implemented by the California Public Utilities Commission on undergrounding projects, including timelines for completion, financial penalties for not hitting timelines, and the utility would have to prove safety protocols are met prior to receiving a rate of return.

· Develops a pathway to expedite undergrounding construction by establishing a shot clock for local government permit approval/denial to just 150 days.

· The legislation would save ratepayers money by forcing PG&E to first use available federal infrastructure funds to construct the undergrounding project before using ratepayer funds and it would mandate telecommunication companies underground their utilities in the same trench as the electrical undergrounding. This dig-once policy will help as a cost share and help make our state telecommunication system more resilient, especially in the highest risk zones.

· Guarantees a 270 day judicial review in California courts if an undergrounding project faces a California Environmental Quality Act Lawsuit.

“Every single time a wildfire has ripped through our communities, PG&E apologizes, pays a fine and claims to harden their lines in the areas that might burn next, and then moves on,” Senator Mike McGuire said. “I have great respect for the women and men who work everyday to keep our lights on, but I don’t trust the lip service from those at the top. For years, PG&E has known the way to fix this – it’s burying their damn lines. With this legislation, we can get PG&E to finally underground the lines most at risk to start a wildfire and it would hold them accountable with strict performance metrics. This bill will save ratepayers money and save lives. If PG&E doesn’t hit their performance metrics, the utility would be held accountable.”

This legislation will further reduce the devastating climate impact wildfires have in our state. In 2020, more than 4 million acres – 4 percent of land in California – burned across the state in just one record-setting year. The smoke from these fires generated the equivalent emissions of 28 million vehicles and blanketed many parts of the state with unhealthy smoke for weeks

“The Western United States is getting hotter and drier, and the threat of wildfires is only getting worse. Everyone knows the only path forward is for PG&E to speed up the pace of moving power lines underground. Lives are literally at risk. This legislation will safeguard our communities and save ratepayers money.”