NEVADA CITY (CBS13) — Dealing with power shutoffs during windstorms could soon be a thing of the past for some in Nevada City.

On Tuesday, Pacific Gas and Electric will break ground on a new project to move power lines underground around Broad Street.

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Signs, construction cones, and equipment took over Liz Eloi’s Nevada City neighborhood.

“Absolutely, great! It’s been a long time coming,” Eloi said.

That excitement was sparked by a PG&E Rule 20A project that converts overhead power lines and buries them underground.
The construction is bringing relief after a winter storm in December that kept her and others in the dark.

“Our power was only out three days and two nights, but they were the darkest, coldest nights of the year,” explained Eloi. “We are hoping of course if any storm, wind, or snow comes, the weather, it won’t affect the weather, it won’t affect the wires.”

Neighbors also hope the digging underground leads to less fire danger.

”There are still potential hazard trees everywhere you look, it’s a big job,” said David Ferrier. “We have multiple lines running all through town, so there are many places that could be an ignition source all through town.”

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PG&E spokesperson Megan McFarland explained that the utility’s decisions on what areas to prioritize are based on customers using a credit system.

“How many credits a county gets depends on the number of electric meters that they have in their population,” McFarland explained. “A community with a county with a lot of electric meters and a high population would accrue more credits.”

Local leaders approved the project in 2020. Nevada County voted to give their credits to the Nevada City to be able to move forward with the project.

Nevada County spokesperson Taylor Wolfe said in a statement:

“Most Nevada County residents live in the WUI – wildland urban interface – in heavily forested communities that are a high severity fire risk. Additionally, climate change and prolonged drought have weakened many trees, making them vulnerable to falling in a major snowstorm like we experienced recently. We intend to work closely with PG&E to accelerate the pace of undergrounding in unincorporated Nevada County, but we know this is a long-term solution. In December 2020, our Supervisors unanimously voted to transfer our Rule 20A credits to the City of Nevada City. We’re happy to see this project moving forward as it benefits both Nevada City and unincorporated Nevada County residents.”

The project is in addition to PG&E’S commitment to undergrounding 10,000 miles of power lines in Butte County to prevent future fires, including in Paradise, which was leveled to the ground in 2018 by the Camp Fire.

“This helps reduce power outages, allows towns to beautify their downtown areas and it increases reliability,” explained McFarland.

Customer electric rates will fund the project. Construction in Nevada City is expected to be finished in July.

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Dixon, Stockton, and Placerville have all qualified and are starting their undergrounding process as well.