After another power line-triggered wildfire erupted in late June, the consumer advocacy unit at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asked regulators to crack down on Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) when it emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The independent CPUC Public Advocates Office (PAO) wants regulators to impose minimum safety and performance standards on the San Francisco-based utility giant post-bankruptcy, as well as establish a process for considering alternatives to the current structure and organization. The court deadline is Sept. 26, after which creditors may offer plans for organization and operations.
"Unless it declares its criteria, the CPUC will be a bystander and reactor," said PAO chief counsel Darwin Farrar. "It is only by acting now that the commission can produce a result that satisfies creditors while ensuring that California's ratepayers are served by the best performer."
PAO Director Elizabeth Echols said PG&E has "lost the public trust" by allegedly failing to provide safe, affordable and reliable power to its customers.
PG&E spokesperson James Noonan said the utility recognizes and understands the "serious concerns" and said it still has work to do. "We're open to a range of solutions, and the company's directors and senior management have been actively exploring additional changes beyond the corrective actions and new programs we've implemented," Noonan said.
The spokesman reiterated that the utility remains committed to "compensating wildfire victims fairly and expeditiously."
Last week PG&E rolled out a progress report on improving wildfire preparedness. That same week, one of its power lines fell in eastern Monterey County, causing a 2,456-acre wildfire east of King City, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFIRE) There were no injuries or building damage and the fire was contained the following day.
The company’s progress report noted that more than 1,000 high-priority safety risks were identified in recent months. PG&E equipment has been the alleged culprit of many fires over the past two years.
CEO Bill Johnson said most of the safety issues uncovered have been fixed. In total, 99% of the 50,000 transmission structures, 98% of the 700,000 distribution poles and 220 substations have been visually and/or aerially inspected. The inspections covered 5,500 miles of transmission lines and 25,200 miles of distribution lines traversing high fire risk areas.
PG&E also has permanently deenergized the Caribou-Palermo transmission line, identified by CALFire as an ignition point of last November's devastating Camp Fire. The line has been out of service since December.