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SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP/CBS13) — Pacific Gas and Electric’s plan to bury 10,000 miles of its power lines in an effort to prevent its fraying grid from sparking wildfires will cost the company at least $15 billion.

The utility said Wednesday it aims to bury about 10% of its distribution and transmission lines, which may cost them anywhere between $15 billion to $30 billion, based on how much the process currently costs.

The utility believes it will find ways to keep the final bill at the lower end of those estimates. Most of the costs will likely be shouldered by PG&E customers, whose electricity rates are already among the highest in the U.S.

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“We have taken a stand that catastrophic wildfires shall stop,” said Patti Poppe, the company’s recently hired CEO.

PG&E stepped up its safety commitment just days after informing regulators a 70-foot (23-meter) pine tree that toppled on one of its power lines ignited a major fire in Butte County, the same rural area about 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco where another fire sparked by its equipment in 2018 killed more than 80 people and destroyed thousands of homes.

Since it started July 13 in a remote area of Butte County, the Dixie Fire has churned northeast through the Sierra Nevada. By Wednesday, the fire spanned a 133-square-mile (344-square-kilometer) area, forcing the Plumas County sheriff on Wednesday to order evacuations along the west shore of popular Lake Almanor.

The backlash to PG&E’s potential liability for the Dixie Fire prompted Poppe to unveil the plan for underground lines several months earlier than she said she planned.

Previous PG&E regimes have staunchly resisted plans to bury long stretches of power lines because of the massive expense involved.

But Poppe told reporters on Wednesday that she quickly realized after she joined PG&E in January that moving lines underground is the best way to protect both the utility and the 16 million people who rely on it for power.

“It’s too expensive not to do it. Lives are on the line,” Poppe told reporters.

PG&E said only that burying the lines will take several years.

However, getting the job done within the next decade will require a quantum leap. In the few areas where PG&E has already been burying power lines, it has been completing about 70 miles (123 kilometers) annually.

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PG&E expects to eventually be able to bury more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of power lines annually, said its chief operating officer, Adam Wright. While Wright likened the project to the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II, Poppe invoked President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 pledge for the U.S. to land on the moon.

PG&E’s path to this point has been strewn with death and destruction.

After previous leaders allowed its equipment to fall into disrepair in an apparent attempt to boost profits and management bonuses, the utility’s grid was blamed for igniting a series of devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018 that prompted the company to file for bankruptcy in 2019.

The biggest fire, in Butte County, wiped out the entire town of Paradise and resulted in PG&E pleading guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter last year just weeks before it emerged from one of the most complex cases in U.S. history.

As part of its bankruptcy, PG&E set up a $13.5 billion trust to pay victims of its past wildfires, but that fund is facing a roughly $2 billion shortfall because half its money is supposed to come from company stock that has been a market laggard.

Since getting out of bankruptcy, PG&E also has been rebuked by California power regulators and a federal judge overseeing its criminal probation for breaking promises to reduce the dangers posed by trees near its power lines. The utility has also been charged with another round of fire-related crimes that it denies committing.

Poppe insisted things are getting better this year under a plan that calls for PG&E to spend $1.4 billion removing more than 300,000 trees and trimming another 1.1 million. But she conceded the utility is “not making enough progress” since it’s only a fraction of that 8 million trees within striking distance of its power lines.

But she also defended PG&E’s handling of the tree that may have caused the Dixie Fire and its response. The tree looked healthy and was about 40 feet (12 meters) from power lines, she said, making it a low-risk danger.

When a PG&E troubleshooter was sent out to inspect a potential problem, he noticed the tree had fallen and may have started a fire in a treacherous area that he tried to put out before firefighters arrived.

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“His efforts can be called nothing less than heroic,” Poppe said.

News Source: cbslocal.com

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Key details of the Senates bipartisan infrastructure plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of senators reached agreement on the details of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would increase federal pending by about $550 billion over five years and fulfill a key part of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

The White House is projecting that the investments will add, on average, about 2 million jobs per year over the coming decade. A 57-page Republican summary of the agreement obtained by The Associated Press also outlines how the lawmakers hope to pay for the additional spending.

Here’s a breakdown of where the dollars would go, according to a summary released by the White House on Wednesday.

— $110 billion for roads and bridges. The $40 billion for bridges is the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate highway system

— $39 billion for public transit. The money would be used to modernize bus and subway fleets and bring new service to communities. That’s about $10 billion less than senators negotiating the agreement had originally designated.

— $66 billion for passenger and freight rail. The money would be used to reduce Amtrak’s maintenance backlog, improve Amtrak’s 457-mile-long Northeast Corridor as well as other routes and make safety improvements to rail grade crossings.

— $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, which the administration says is critical to accelerating the use of electric vehicles to curb climate change.

— $5 billion for the purchase of electric school buses and hybrids, reducing reliance on school buses that run on diesel fuel.

— $17 billion for ports and $25 billion for airports to reduce congestion and address maintenance backlogs.

— $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure, including funding to replace all of the nation’s service lines using lead pipe.

— $65 billion to expand broadband access, a particular problem for rural areas and tribal communities. Most of the money would be made available through grants to states.

— $21 billion for cleaning up superfund and brownfield sites, reclaim abandoned mine land and cap obsolete gas wells.

— $73 billion for modernizing the nation’s electric grid and expanding the use of renewable energy.

And here’s a breakdown of pay-fors in a Republican summary of the plan:

— Tapping about $205 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief aid. Congress has provided about $4.7 trillion in emergency assistance in response to the pandemic.

— Drawing on about $53 billion in unemployment insurance aid that the federal government was providing to supplement state unemployment insurance. Dozens of states are declining to take the federal supplement.

— Drawing on about $49 billion by further delaying a Medicare rule giving beneficiaries rebates that now go to insurers and middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers. The trade association for drug manufacturers argued that the rule would help reduce patients’ out-of-pocket costs, but the Congressional Budget Office had projected that it would increase taxpayer costs by $177 billion over 10 years.

— Raising an estimated $87 billion in spectrum auctions for 5G services.

— Restarting a tax on chemical manufacturers that had expired in 1995, raising about $13 billion. The money had been used to help fund the cleanup of Superfund sites. Also, selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would add about $6 billion.

— Strengthening tax enforcement when it comes to crypto currencies, raising about $28 billion.

— Relying on projected economic growth from the investments to bring in about $56 billion.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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