A California utility plans to replace 3,400 miles of overhead power lines with insulated wire to reduce the risk of them sparking when hit by tree limbs or other objects, the company announced Monday.
Southern California Edison aims to replace the lines by 2025 to align itself with legislation that California lawmakers have sent to the governor to sign to prevent wildfires.
Sparking power lines are one of the leading causes of California’s wildfires. The wildfires have killed dozens of people and destroyed thousands of homes in recent years.
The legislation sparked debate because it also will allow another utility company — Pacific Gas & Electric — to raise electric rates to cover the costs of lawsuits from last year’s deadly wildfires amid fears it could go bankrupt otherwise.
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The bill also requires investor-owned utilities to safeguard their equipment to reduce the risk of fires.
Southern California Edison said the insulated wire installation is part of a $582 million plan that would also be paid for in part by a rate increase. It includes removing trees and brush, installing cameras to help emergency crews assess a situation and respond quicker and adding weather stations so the utility can decide the safest way to operate if the risk of a fire is high.
Fire investigators have blamed PG&E equipment for 12 of last year’s wildfires in Northern California’s wine country, including two that killed 15 people combined. Authorities have not determined fault for the Tubbs Fire, the most destructive in state history, which destroyed thousands of homes in Santa Rosa.
PG&E is facing dozens of lawsuits from insurers, which have spent billions settling insurance claims from homeowners.