Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has reached a settlement to pay $65 million for allegedly falsifying natural gas and electric records that in some cases led to contractors damaging utility infrastructure.
PG&E filed a settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to resolve regulators’ claims that it misrepresented the time it took to respond to contractors who wanted utility infrastructure located and marked.
The San Francisco-based utility said it reached the settlement with CPUC’S Safety Enforcement Division (SED) and the Coalition of California Utility Employees, proposing payments of $65 million, including system enhancements that would be funded by shareholders.
"This settlement agreement will allow for investments that strengthen the company’s operations and ensure compliance with applicable rules," PG&E said in a note to employees. "We have been working towards a comprehensive settlement agreement since April and have been holding frequent discussions with” regulators and officials in the state.
PG&E added that its past practices were "unacceptable, and we take responsibility for not living up to our commitment to accurate reporting and record-keeping in this case."
Under the settlement, which will be reviewed by an administrative law judge before the CPUC acts on the agreement, requires PG&E to implement 28 system enhancements to its ongoing operations, including independent auditing, field reviews, added staffing and annual performance reporting to the SED.
"In addition to the terms of the settlement, PG&E has taken and continues to take critical corrective actions to strengthen its processes and culture," the utility reported to its employees. This has included retaining an independent third-party to audit and/or review the locate/mark function and provide reports to the CPUC and a federal monitor, along with providing more workers and training in the locate/mark function.
The settlement is the latest blow for the utility, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year in the face of mounting litigation related to devastating wildfires in California. The company’s reorganization plan is currently being reviewed by state regulators.
Elsewhere in the state, California officials are again preparing for potential wildfires this month and next, a period that has in the past spawned some of the worst blazes. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed nearly two dozen bills aimed at prevention and containment.
Twenty-two bills cover various areas and reflect recommendations in the governor’s strike force report released in June. The report provided a blueprint for how the state could build a safe, reliable and affordable energy future, according to Newsom.
Thirteen of the new bills involve preventing and responding to major fires, as well as utilities mitigation plans, including Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). Another five bills deal with mitigating climate change impacts. In July, Newsom signed wildfire safety and accountability legislation that would more fairly allocate responsibilities for catastrophic wildfires.
In an unprecedented notification on Monday, PG&E warned that it could potentially shut off electricity on Wednesday and Thursday across nearly 30 counties in Northern and Central California in order to stop equipment from setting off wildfires.
The company on Sunday restored power to more than 10,000 customers after a proactive PSPS that was initiated on Saturday based on forecasts of dry, hot and windy weather in Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties.