If your home is like many others in San Carlos, it probably looks like it is being tethered by unsightly power lines. You have also probably imagined what your property would look like if PG&E would simply bury those power lines. Aside from improving the look of your property, burying the power lines would increase public safety, reduce PG&E maintenance costs and help prevent power failures during storms. So how do we get it done?
The one thing that I quickly discovered is that the answer is not readily available. After some research, I found that some Bay Area cities have been successful in the conversion. Here’s how they did it:
California State law provides a mechanism for areas within cities to form districts to carry out undergrounding (“Undergrounding” is the term California and PG&E use to describe the placement of all power lines underground). In essence, such districts must have the approval of a certain percentage of the property owners in the district, be approved by PG&E and other utilities affected and by the local City Council. Once all of these requirements have been met, all property owners within the district will be required to participate.
Additionally, the Public Utilities Commission requires that certain PG&E funds be set aside for use by cities to defray the costs of undergrounding projects that have been approved by the cities and PG&E.
The process would start by the formation of a district in San Carlos, or part of San Carlos. A cost estimate to have the undergrounding completed would be furnished by PG&E. If the petitioners for the district still wish to proceed after the cost estimate is furnished, they will move to phase two of the project which involves obtaining a petition. The petition must have at least 60% of the property owners in favor of the undergrounding.
If the petition is successful, the city would look at funding options. Options range from property owners flipping the entire bill, to a combination of PG&E assistance, property owner assistance and State assistance. Exact costs and the chosen funding option then make their way onto a secondary petition which must, again, be signed by 60% of the property owners in the particular district. If the petition gains the required signatures, the matter would move on to public hearing and finally, approval at the City Council level.
Clearly a bit of a mountain to climb and it would be interesting to see just what percentage of San Carlans would be willing to pay their fair share to do away with the power lines.