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State Legislative Pipe Hearing Probes PG&E, Local Ties

A state lawmaker from the San Francisco Peninsula suburbs held a fact-finding subcommittee hearing Monday, prompted by safety and communications concerns between Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and communities stunned three years ago by the San Bruno transmission pipeline rupture.

Representatives from PG&E and the communities told Sen. Jerry Hill, chair of the state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communication Subcommittee, that the San Francisco combination utility has been making progress in its dealing with local cities and counties since the September 2010 explosion.

Hill stressed the need for the utility and communities to raise their level of communications, trust and awareness on safety issues. In that regard, he announced a second subcommittee hearing will be held on the peninsula on Nov. 18.

There was little focus on concerns fomented when California regulators earlier this month ordered PG&E to keep its Line 147 transmission pipeline lateral closed until staff could verify that the 24-inch diameter, 3.8-mile pipe that runs through San Carlos adjacent to San Bruno was safe (see Daily GPI,Oct. 10).

Line 147 is back in service, but at a lower, distribution pipeline pressure level of 125 ppsi, a PG&E spokesperson told NGIlate Monday, following the legislative subcommittee hearing. After initially isolating and deactivating the line, the utility has received approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to open four regulators and operate the pipeline at the lower pressure, she said.

Before the heating season sets in, PG&E wants to resume operating the lateral at its transmission pressure (325 ppsi), and it intends to seek CPUC approval to do so, the spokesperson said.

After safety concerns emerged, San Carlos officials said they were allocating $250,000 to hire the city's own gas pipeline expert to review the work of the utility and the CPUC safety branch. It was unclear from Monday's hearing whether that avenue is still being pursued by the suburb.

"Local governments should not have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do the work PG&E and the CPUC are supposed to do," said Hill, whose Senate district includes both San Bruno and San Carlos.

A PG&E corporate affairs director responsible for the peninsula area, Papia Gambelin, told the legislative hearing that PG&E has continuous conversations with cities and counties. The utility has conducted about four dozen meetings with cities since the San Bruno explosion.

“We are always looking for ways to get better,” Gambelin said. “Our outreach is extensive.”

Although San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane, Hill and Rep. Jackie Speier have been vocal critics of both PG&E  and the CPUC's handling of the post-San Bruno situation (see Daily GPI, June 7), a number of mayors farther south on the peninsula testified Monday that the utility is making headway in regaining communications and trust with local officials.

Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre and Sunnyvale Mayor Tony Spitaleri told the subcommittee the utility is doing a good job in interacting with their cities since the San Bruno explosion.

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