Bankruptcy bound and hectored by regulators, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has been officially accused in a state investigation of shirking its responsibility for transmission line inspections and maintenance, helping to create an explosive mixture that led to California's deadliest wildfire last year.
Long identified as the source of the deadly Camp Fire's ignition from a fallen transmission line, PG&E was accused of negligence in its tree trimming in a 700-page report by the investigative unit at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
CPUC's Safety Enforcement Division (SED) earlier in the year began investigating 15 of 17 Northern California fires that erupted in 2017, which potentially involved PG&E equipment. The SED more recently expanded the scope of the proceeding to include some 2018 fires, including the Camp Fire, which destroyed the foothills town of Paradise.
SED found that the San Francisco-based combination utility failed to "maintain an effective inspection and maintenance program to identify and correct hazardous conditions on its transmission lines." It has ordered PG&E to address all of the violations prior to having the Chapter 11 reorganization plan approved.
SED claimed the utility failed to replace and maintain the C-hook device on its transmission tower where the Camp Fire ignition source was identified. It also said PG&E had failed to make proper inspections and reporting, while assigning "incorrect priorities" for what was "an immediate safety hazard."
The CPUC unit also found that PG&E did not report a "reportable incident" on the Big Bend distribution circuit in a timely manner, another factor contributing to the Camp Fire.
The utility said it accepted SED’s reaffirmation of the earlier conclusion by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that one of its downed power lines was the cause of the Camp Fire.
PG&E spokesperson Jason King told NGI on Tuesday that since the 2017 and 2018 fires, the utility has "taken additional precautionary measures intended to further reduce wildfire risks and keep our customers and our communities safe."
This year PG&E has "inspected almost 730,000 transmission, distribution and substation structures and more than 25 million electrical components in those areas. We climbed them, we used drones and we performed 18 months of inspections [compressed] into only four months."
King noted that "throughout the inspection process, we have addressed and repaired conditions that pose an immediate safety risk, while completing other high-priority repairs on an accelerated basis. Repairs for other conditions will be completed as part of our routine work execution plan."