Saturday, September 20, 2008

HOOKING UP ELECTRICITY IN RURAL NEVADA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA

When estimating development costs for raw land in Nevada County, California, one of the most difficult numbers to generate is the cost of bringing PG&E electric power to the home site. These notes may prove helpful in helping you create your own cost estimate in the least amount of time and with the least hassle.

First, please consider this important disclaimer. As a Realtor I am not authorized or qualified to quote development costs for electric power. You must seek out actual price quotes from PG&E estimators or from licensed electrical contractors. What I am describing in these notes is my personal experience in estimating these costs.

Now, allow me to begin by dispelling a couple of myths:

  • Myth #1—PG&E is unpleasant and difficult to deal with. In my effort to address this mythic misconception, I went to the PG&E New Construction office in Grass Valley, California posing as a naive Nevada County land owner. I asked some good questions, and I asked some really stupid questions. Two PG&E representatives worked with me, answering all of my questions, giving me the information I needed, even offering to help me fill out the application for new service. Both representatives were friendly, patient, and generous with their time. No complaints whatsoever. Clients I have sent to the New Construction office report the same pleasant interaction.
  • Myth #2—You can’t get PG&E to give you any dollar amounts or specific details unless you pay fees. This myth is untrue for two reasons. First, there is no initial application fee. None. Zero. Zip. Second, they will give you free handouts providing details, specifications, drawings, and generic costs for service.

Here’s what you need to know to get started:


Only owners can apply for service, not real estate agents, not prospective buyers.

Your most important initial decision is whether to bring in the service through overhead wires or underground trench. (By the way, you can change your mind.) Several elements will influence your decision:

  • Aesthetics

  • Local regulations (Homeowners Association rules for instance)

  • The distance from the distribution point (usually a power pole) to the home site

  • The geology and topography of the parcel

  • Costs (trench service is more expensive than overhead service)


Before applying for electric service you must obtain two copies of the following documents and make two decisions about rates and size of electric service:

  • Parcel map or survey map (your real estate agent can provide this) with all easements, property lines, rights-of-way.
  • Building permit from the County or Title 24 Utility Report.
  • Detailed site plan with existing and proposed locations of electric meters, roads, driveways, sidewalks, fire hydrants, building elevations, proposed future improvements.
  • County approved plot plan with assigned address


Decide which rate options you want. You can investigate this on PGE.com.


Decide on the size of main switch panel you need. This size is expressed in amps. Talk with your electrical contractor about sizing the electric service for the kind of home, size of home, equipment you will be operating (air conditioning, well pumps, pools and spas, as well as your usual electric needs for washing, cooking, lighting.)

After you submit your application and all the supporting documents and decisions, you need to schedule an appointment at the site with a PG&E estimator/engineer. If you need it soon, be firm with the New Construction staff about getting a timely and specific appointment. Meet the engineer at the site and work toward an agreement on how to best get service. Some items, costs, and solutions may be flexible or negotiable. There may be more than one way to skin a cat. What if you could trench 200 feet across the back corner of your neighbor’s parcel instead of extending a new 12,000 volt service a half mile down the county road? That sort of thing.

Most rural parcels will need their own transformer. (That’s the gray beer keg up on the top of the electric pole.) Cost? Last year, a transformer costs $2000. Put it in your budget.

After you get your bid from the PG&E estimator/engineer, you can choose PG&E or a qualified contractor to design and construct the service trench (if appropriate) and service facilities.

The cost of power poles is included in the generic price per foot for overhead service.

Not included in the generic price per foot are easements, right-of-ways, tree removal/trimming, inspection fees, trenching, and substructures (splice boxes or drain boxes, for instance)

“Out in the county” most contractors get the temporary electric service to build the home by borrowing it from a neighbor or using a generator. In town or suburban neighborhoods, projects may get electric service from an existing pole through a wire dropped directly to a panel on the back of a portable toilet. The portable must be pretty close to the pole and also pretty close to the building site for this solution to be feasible. You don’t see this often out in the “sticks.”

If you are fortunate enough to be able to hook up to natural gas, the gas line can go in the same trench as the electric power wire. What else can go in the same trench? Phone and cable TV. What can not go in the electric power trench? Water, sewer, propane, storm drain, private utilities (alarms, sprinklers, gate controllers, etc.)

By the way, you are not going to find a lot of natural gas service out here in the boonies, except, maybe over at Ira’s pig farm. Pigs? Natural gas? Never mind.

There is a big difference between an extension and a drop. Typically, extensions are much more expensive than drops. If the nearest boundary of your property is, for example, a half mile from the nearest power pole, you are going to pay to have the electric power extended to your property, a distance of about 2640 feet! How much will this cost you? Well, the generic cost for 12,000 volt extensions is $20 per foot for overhead service (2640 feet X $20/foot) which gets your estimate off to a roaring base cost of $52,800! Add to that, transformers, fees, and PG&E only knows what else. Yikes!

So, you have extended the electric power to the edge of the property. Now, you need an electric drop from the pole to your actual building site. How much will it cost for a drop from the pole at the edge of your parcel to bring 120/240 volt electric power to your building site 250 feet away?

For overhead drop service at a generic cost of $10 per foot plus a transformer, about $5000. For underground service through a trench at a generic cost of $12.50 per foot plus a transformer, about $5600 plus the additional costs of digging the trench, “no-rock” backfill, conduit, pull tape, fittings, and substructures (if necessary). Neither estimate includes the price of the service panel. Neither estimate includes any tree trimming, easement, or right-away costs.

If you need advice about developing your dream house in the country, please call Bob at 530-906-1023.

1 comment:

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