Undergrounding Utility Wires

Utility Undergrounding in Berkeley

Utility undergrounding describes the process of replacing existing overhead utility poles and lines (phone, internet, electric) with underground wires. This will eliminate the need for utility poles and overhead wires. One main advantage of undergrounding utilities is fire safety: underground wires are better protected from storms, wind, and earthquakes, preventing the risk of poles and wires falling causing property damage, fire, and personal injury.

  • In 2015, City Council formed an Undergrounding Subcommittee to explore undergrounding utilities throughout Berkeley. It is made up of commissioners from Public Works, Transportation, and Disaster and Fire Safety commissions.
  • In 2016, the City hired a firm to conduct an analysis of undergrounding utilities and provide a cost estimate. The study identified that there are approximately 13.1 miles of Arterial and 24.8 miles of Collector streets remaining to be undergrounded and the estimated cost of undergrounding the total 37.9miles is $134,800,000.
  • In 2017, Councilmember Droste and Councilmember Wengraf wrote a budget referral to fund a new staff position dedicated to undergrounding utilities in Berkeley. Their request is being considered in the 2018 budget discussion. 
  • In 2018, the subcommittee made an extensive report for City Council outlining projected costs, recommended streets, etc. in their Conceptual Study To Underground Utility Wires in Berkeley. Council approved their request to continue with Phase 3 of the Subcommittee workplan, which includes developing a financing plan for the City.

In general there are three ways to underground utilities in California, but until Berkeley’s Subcommittee completes a financing plan, the only current option is for neighborhoods to self finance undergrounding utilities.

Funding through Rule 20A:
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and utility companies established a program to underground utilities across the State in 1967, commonly known as Rule 20. PG&E will, at its expense, replace its existing overhead electric facilities with underground electric facilities along public streets and roads, and on public lands and private property across which rights-of-ways satisfactory to PG&E have been obtained by PG&E. Currently rule 20A funds are committed well into the future.  This may change based on hearings about Rule 20 currently being held by the CPUC.

Applicant financed undergrounding through Rule 20b and Rule 20c:

Homeowners can apply and volunteer to fund the undergrounding process. Under Rule 20B, the utility is responsible for approximately 20 percent of undergrounding project
costs (using rate payer revenues), and property owners and/or the local jurisdiction is responsible for 80 percent of costs.

Under Rule 20C, projects are paid for entirely by property owners, with no utility (ratepayer) funds used, though the electric utility is still involved in the installation of the underground wiring. Undergrounding projects approved under these two options are still subject to California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulations and project criteria.

Neighborhoods can self finance undergrounding by forming a utility district. For more information on how to self finance undergrounding, please contact Nisha Patel at npatel@cityofberkeley.info