California’s major utility watchdog group, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), asked state regulators Wednesday to reverse their approval in December allowing $214 million of utility ratepayer support for part of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s (PG&E) multi-year natural gas pipeline safety enhancement plan.

In December the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a three-year PG&E pipeline plan but denied utility ratepayer support for most of the cost of the utility proposal. It was the state regulatory panel’s first major decision following the San Bruno pipeline rupture and explosion two years ago (see Daily GPI, Dec. 24, 2012).

TURN is arguing that the decision allows PG&E to get ratepayer support for replacing transmission pipeline segments that were untested and of questionable safety leading up to the San Bruno rupture.

“TURN has repeatedly urged the commission to hold PG&E accountable for its mistakes and not let the company pass the buck to consumers,” a TURN spokesperson said on Wednesday. “PG&E must now replace more than 50 miles of pipelines that may or may not have been tested before [San Bruno] because it has no records of previous testing.”

TURN legal director Tom Long contends that the CPUC needs to “stand up to PG&E, and stand up for customers who were put in harm’s way by PG&E management.”

In December, the CPUC action effectively approved a proposed administrative law judge’s decision granting $299 million in increased rates through 2014 to pay for some of the utility’s comprehensive pipeline enhancement plan, compared to the $768 million being sought by PG&E to cover the costs of its safety and upgrade efforts over the next three years.

PG&E has been arguing publicly for some time that it needed “reasonable cost recovery” for the many new standards and requirements in place because of San Bruno (see Daily GPI, Dec. 13, 2012). The CPUC commissioners did not agree.

PG&E utility President Chris Johns has maintained that the utility “has made and will continue to make significant investments to fund critically important infrastructure upgrades to its network of gas transmission pipelines.” Johns said the utility will continue to forge ahead with its overall plan, which originally carried a $2.2 billion price tag through 2014.

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