A global consulting firm tracking social investment practices assigned San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) with a triple-A (AAA) rating Thursday for the combination utility’s performance on social, environmental and strategic governance issues compared to peer companies in the utility industry. The announcement coincided with PG&E’s release of its 2007 report on its social responsibility track record.

A key part of the 120 characteristics that Innovest Strategic Value Advisors tracks deal with how companies interface with the environment, and PG&E’s 2007 accounting stresses its work in leading initiatives against greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pushing the use of more renewable energy.

“The company’s strategic focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency and distributed generation suggest that it will be well positioned to mitigate the risks and capitalize on the opportunities associated with climate change, the industry’s most significant environmental/social issue,” said Innovest Senior Analyst Eric Kane, who said the AAA rating for PG&E reflects “utility sector-leading” performance.

Senior executives at the utility and its holding company have been stressing the need to be a leader among U.S. utilities in pushing for clean energy and other innovations that hold environmental and social benefits. They say global climate change is their biggest challenge and opportunity.

Among 26 U.S. and international multi-utility sector companies, Innovest said it analyzed each companies’ social, environmental and strategic governance practices. PG&E turned out to be one of two in the grouping that received the triple-A rating for its performance. Innovest, which has a global client list spanning all major sectors of the economy, contends that its ratings “uncover hidden risk and value potential” for investors by assessing criteria that are not usually looked at in traditional securities analysis.

“Corporate responsibility is an essential barometer of the current and future overall health of our company,” said PG&E CEO Peter Darbee in an opening letter published in the utility’s recently released responsibility report for 2007. “If we are not exacting on safety or environmental compliance or corporate governance, chances are we are not applying the rigor and discipline it takes to perform with excellence in other business operations.”

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