Rule 20A Utility Undergrounding Program – Administrative Requirements and Actions

Contributor: Swinerton Blogger   |   April 14, 2017   |   Image Gallery »
Rule 20A Utility Undergrounding Program – Administrative Requirements and Actions

In 1967, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) established tariff rules to what is now commonly referred to as the Rule 20A Utility Undergrounding Program. This statewide program was created to eliminate the concentration of overhead electric and telecommunication lines and wooden utility poles along major arterial streets, public areas of scenic value, and the downtown or civic center core. 

Rule 20A allows cities and counties to receive an annual allocation of monetary credits that are allowed to accumulate for the eventual expenditure and benefit of undergrounding unattractive overhead wires in their community. The program is financed by the rate payers under the Public Purpose Program. 

When a city’s Rule 20A balance is adequate enough to finance the cost of a utility undergrounding project and the City Council elects to create a capital improvement project, the citywide priorities for utility undergrounding through the Rule 20A program should be based on a regular review and update of a long term master plan. 

When a city elects to move forward with the planning, design, and construction of a Rule 20A project, the total projected cost of eligible soft and hard costs will eventually be deducted from an agency’s Rule 20A balance. One of the beneficial features of the Rule 20A program is that it allows an agency to obtain an advance, up to five years, from their annual allocation and to acquire additional Rule 20A funds from another agency. The provision to utilize future allocations allows a high priority project to strategically move forward into construction where present worth dollars will provide more value than deferring for a future and costlier construction project. Additionally, with the heavy volume of private development construction activities in the Bay Area, another consideration is the possibility of combining Rule 20A funds with a private development’s requirement to underground overhead lines within their development project through the use of the Rule 20B program.   

Prior to starting a Rule 20A project, consult with your local PG&E Rule 20A liaison officer and request a copy of their guidelines “What Your Community Should Know About Rule 20A-The Conversion of Overhead Facilities to Underground Facilities”.  

The following before and after utility undergrounding photos show the significant visual impact a Rule 20A project can have on a community.   




Once a decision is made to move forward with the utility undergrounding, agency staff should be closely communicating and coordinating with individual utility companies on establishing the boundary limits for the underground utility district (UUD). The final UUD map should attain joint agreement by all parties (primarily PG&E, AT&T, Comcast, and the public agency) as well as gain common agreement on finalizing the design and construction lead roles, committing Rule 20A funds for 100 feet of the service trench cost, signing off on a service conversion agreement, and defining pole down dates. These items are essential informational requirements for the proper preparation of a formal city council or county board resolution. 

It takes five to ten years from planning to the physical removal of utility poles and overhead wires, it is extremely important for a public agency to maintain a Rule 20A priority list of arterial streets with heavy concentration of overhead wires eligible for Rule 20A undergrounding. The priority list should be reviewed by the Council or Board every five years or prior to the establishment of an undergrounding district and updated to confirm the priority list is consistent with an agency’s most current General Plan goals.