When noise disrupts the typical suburban quiet in Rincon Valley, there will probably be few complaints. The area, just east of Santa Rosa, is perhaps where the most visible utility strengthening work going on in the county, is underway. The burying of electrical lines there, underway since April, is one of several projects reducing utility infrastructures vulnerability to wildfire.
When finished, it won't look much different. Many of the power poles will still be in place as phone lines and cable-TV wires aren't being buried. But Rincon Valley residents may have better peace of mind.
PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras said repeated pre-emptive blackouts the utility calls Public Safety Power Shutoffs have wracked the neighborhood, pushing it higher on the priorities list.
"We were looking at areas, non-high fire threat areas, and pockets where customers kept getting impacted, event after event, year after year, and this Rincon Valley area is definitely one of those areas," she said.
It's part of work underway throughout the county. Contreras says PG&E is insulating power lines in places, replacing wooden poles with steel ones, or adding a fire resistant fiberglass wrapping. It's also adding equipment to better localize blackouts when they do need to happen. According to PG&E, fewer homes and businesses will go dark.
Contreras says burying powerlines can reduce risk, but it's not a panacea. "Because it does take longer to restore power if there's a power outage. Undergrounding is susceptible to flooding and earthquakes, but in this particular area, undergrounding lines, burying the lines was the best way to keep the lights on for the 11,000 customers in the Rincon Valley area."
Contreras says the project is costing an estimated 2.3 million dollars per mile. Work is scheduled for completion in August.