PG&E's Landmark RFI to Underground Ten Thousand Miles of Lines


Pacific Gas & Electric

Fortnightly Magazine - October 25 2021

On the twenty-second of July, Pacific Gas & Electric announced its commitment to underground ten thousand miles of its power lines to help reduce wildfire risk and address climate change. Then, on the twelfth of August, the company issued a Request for Information, an RFI, seeking approaches to what the company termed "this feat." 

By the end of September, PG&E met with firms that responded to the RFI, each of which presented their approaches to accomplish this unprecedented project, and necessarily implement a range of innovations to succeed. We do not yet know the outcome of these monumental steps in strategic undergrounding, but given the importance for the entire electric utility industry, the PUF team provides herein the key excerpts of the RFI.

RFI's Purpose

On July 22, 2021, the company announced its commitment to underground 10,000 miles of electric lines beginning in High Fire Threat Districts across our service area to help reduce the risk of major wildfires and address the challenge of climate change. The scale of our plan is unprecedented, and the strength of our commitment is unparalleled. This represents the largest effort in the U.S. to underground power lines as a wildfire risk reduction measure.

We know that we cannot do this alone – we need help. We want partners in thought and action, with courage and conviction, that will challenge us, share our commitment, and co-create what will become the country's most modern and expansive underground electric system. As such, PG&E is inviting your response to this Request for Information (RFI) to seek creative approach(es) to achieve this feat; however, this is more than just a Request for Information – it is an invitation for industry-leading Imagination, Ideas and Innovation that will provide safe and reliable energy to California for generations to come.

Participants are requested to submit four (4) elements within their response: (1) general company overview, (2) recommended approach(es), (3) response to supplemental questions, and (4) relevant project examples. Responses are due no later than 4PM PT on Thursday, September 2nd, 2021. Information submitted in this RFI will be used to identify participants with whom PG&E is interested in furthering discussions around the proposed approaches and innovative ideas.

Thank you in advance for your interest in partnering to help us achieve this audacious and ambitious goal on behalf of our more than 5 million customers.

Twenty-Four Questions for Responding Firms

1. Work Sequencing. We are looking for the most practical way to mitigate wildfire risk as quickly as possible with this plan. Describe the strategy you would utilize to optimize sequencing of the work. Consider factors such as local geology, environmental, cultural, permitting, etc.

2. Safety & Quality. Based on your approach, what innovative safety and quality practices, management system(s) and tools would you utilize?

3. Work Delivery. What is your perspective on an effective structure to manage safety and quality? Please incorporate experience from programs of similar scale in your response.

4. Cost. Based on your approach(es), provide an estimated cost per mile range (e.g., $X - $X) for the below scenarios. Please include an estimated breakdown of equipment, materials, labor, OH and other cost elements: (a) optimal scenario (best results possible), (b) optimistic scenario, and (c) most likely scenario.

4a. Cost. Based on your response to question 1, clearly specify what conditions and elements would need to be present to enable (a) optimal scenario, (b) optimistic scenario, and (c) the most likely scenario.

5. Cost. Which cost model(s) would you recommend utilizing for this program? Describe the pros and cons of each model if multiple options.

6. Contracting. Based on your approach, what performance-based contracting methods would you recommend?

7. Resources. Describe how your company and PG&E would partner to secure and maintain talent, ensuring success through the duration of the program.

Burns & McDonnell – In-depth Understanding for Undergrounding – Read the Blog

8. Resources. Based on your approach, would you have internal capacity to complete independently, or would a joint venture/partnership structure be required? Please provide additional detail to support your response.

9. Alternative Work Delivery Methods. Describe any additional work delivery methods (not included in your approach) that you would consider in delivering this work. Describe the pros and cons of each.

10. Application. Have you applied any key elements of your recommended approach to work elsewhere (including in other industries)? If so, describe the general outcomes achieved and lessons learned.

11. Equipment. Describe any specialized and/or innovative equipment (emerging and/or existing) that would drive safety, quality, and efficiency of this work.

12. Materials. Describe any specialized and/or innovative materials (emerging and/or existing) that would drive safety, quality, and efficiency of this work.

13. Technology. Where do you see the greatest opportunities to use innovative, commercializable technology (emerging and/or existing) to improve pace, quality, cost, or other performance of the undergrounding program? Please provide additional detail to support your response and incorporate perspectives from other industries in your response, where applicable.

14. Organizational Structure. Based on your approach, what leadership/governance structure would you recommend for a program of this nature? Please specify your potential role as a prime, the role of subcontractors, PG&E's role, and the role of other parties (suppliers, external stakeholders, etc.)

15. Execution. What is your perspective on an appropriately ambitious ramp up of constructed miles, by year, to achieve 10,000 miles?

16. Project Management. Based on your approach, how would you effectively apply project management practices, tools, and methodologies to execute work under this program. Include detail on project management system(s).

17. Land Rights. What is your perspective on private land rights acquisition and, in particular, how and when such activities should occur when pursuing a program such as this? Please incorporate detail from experience on other programs of similar scale.

18. Risks. What are the top five (5) risks you see in executing a program of this nature? What innovative mitigations would you use to minimize or eliminate these risks?

19. Information Technology. If applicable, describe any experience you have with the following and whether your recommended approach has considerations for the below areas. If no experience for one or multiple of the below, please indicate such. (1) Undergrounding fiber optic cables in conjunction with electric conductors / conduits; (2) Accommodating SCADA electronics and communications connectivity to underground assets; (3) Splicing and terminating fiber optic cables (underground vaults, pad mount cabinets, overhead to underground transitions, etc.)

20. Stakeholder Engagement. PG&E would like to understand your approach and experience with stakeholder engagement. Describe your approach, from an organizational perspective, toward stakeholder and community education/engagement and permitting.

21. Project Planning and Implementation. Based on your experience and knowledge of PG&E, what changes should PG&E make to how it runs, plans, and implements projects to successfully underground 10,000 miles?

22. Company Culture. In one paragraph, describe your company culture.

23. Responsibility. Given your responses above, detail how you would demonstrate your commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout a program of this nature.

24. Supply Chain Impact. Given your responses above, what would be the impact and anticipated ramp time to scale the supply chain in response to your proposed solution. Which products would likely present the highest impact (in terms of lead time) to the project schedules? Please consider the development of new technologies, and/or capacity enhancements in existing markets.

Lead image: 164601126 © Sheila fitzgerald |

Burns & McDonnell – In-depth Understanding for Undergrounding – Read the Blog


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