In May 2021, the SonomaIndependent.org, an award-winning public interest solutions and advocacy website owned by Progressive Source Communications, created the Bury Fire-Causing Power Lines Now! campaign.
The two month campaign started with a source-hyperlinked article for the Sonoma Independent and a powerful infographic (see below), which showed that four of the six worst fires in recent California history were caused by overhead powerlines in a relatively tiny area of the state. This information transformed the prevailing narrative that because there were hundreds of thousands of miles of overhead lines, the state’s utility giants could never be able to afford to bury all of them-so policy makers should instead focus on mitigating the massive fires after they happened.
Our grassroots effort to build public awareness around the need to bury powerlines was joined by the Davis Community Vision Alliance and a team of environmental activists from four University of California campuses across the states. Our Change.org petition here was signed by more than 1,700 Californians, and our commentaries and letters advocating for urgent action to bury power lines appeared in various news sites including The Press Democrat, The Davis Enterprise, The Pacific Sun, News 93.1 KFBK and Mercury News.
Our team applied direct public pressure through meetings with state legislators, a Commissioner of the Public Utility Regulatory Agency and utility giant PG&E.
On July 21st, the new CEO of PG&E announced that instead of insisting that it could not afford to bury more than an average of 50 miles of powerlines a year, the company would initiate a “Marshall Plan” to spend more than $15 billion to bury 1,000 miles of fire-causing overhead power lines a year for the next ten years.
In September 2022, SB 884 was signed into law by Governor Newsom. The bills purpose was to expedite the undergrounding of electric utility lines in California’s highest fire risk zones. California Senate Majority Leader Mike McGuire, who first introduced the bill, said the following:
“Accountability is here – and it’s about time,” Senate Majority Leader Mike McGuire said. “For far too long, America’s largest utility – PG&E – has failed its customers and made California unsafe. The utility has underfunded modernization, line hardening and wildfire safety efforts for decades, which has had devastating impacts in communities throughout the utility’s territory. One of the most critical paths forward is to move power lines underground in the most high fire risk regions. Now, it’s the law. SB 884 will save lives and ratepayers money by expediting the undergrounding of 10,000 miles of the highest fire risk electric lines. We’re grateful for the overwhelming and bipartisan support from the legislature and Governor Newsom.”