Nearing the second anniversary of the 2010 natural gas transmission pipeline rupture and explosion in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13, 2010), Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) is hoping to reach a global settlement on four ongoing state regulatory proceedings that are plaguing the multi-billion-dollar combination utility, according to PG&E Corp. CEO Anthony Earley.

Without divulging any specifics of ongoing settlement talks on the four cases, Earley made his goal of an overall deal clear in answering financial analysts’ questions Tuesday during a conference call in which PG&E reported decreased 2Q2012 earnings of $235 million (55 cents/share) compared to $362 million (91 cents/share) for the same period last year.

“These settlement discussions are multiple proceedings with many parties, and they are extremely complex [including the U.S. Attorney’s and California Attorney General’s offices],” said Earley, noting the confidentially of the talks and promising to make future disclosures “when we have information we can share.

“We continue to believe that resolving the regulatory issues sooner rather than later would be beneficial to PG&E, our regulators and our customers.” On the third-party civil cases, which are completely separate, Earley said PG&E is “making lots of progress.” So far, PG&E has more than $455 million in claims and it has estimated that the total could grow to $600 million, CFO Kent Harvey said.

Earley emphasized that the company still faces “a number of challenges and uncertainties. I know it is frustrating that we can’t be more specific about the timetable or predictions on all the regulatory proceedings, but that is the nature of the process,” he said. “I believe we are making good progress, and we continue to get positive feedback [from stakeholders] on the direction we’re headed.”

In response to an analyst’s question, Earley reiterated his objective for “wrapping up all of the issues” by the end of this year, adding that the proceedings are “one of the most complex” that he has ever been involved in: three investigations (record keeping, pipe classifications and pipeline operations) and a separate rulemaking on pipeline safety.

“It takes time to work through the process because each party has its own agenda that they want covered in any eventual agreement, but [although it is] August, I still think we can achieve my stated objective by year-end,” Earley said. “We are trying to get a global settlement, but I can’t get into the details of those discussions.”

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