PG&E disputes allegations it deferred maintenance on transmission line tied to deadly Camp Fire
- Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) disagreed with "the overall premise" of a Wall Street Journal report that alleged the utility repeatedly delayed maintenance on a high-voltage transmission line linked to the deadly 2018 Camp Fire, the company told Utility Dive on Wednesday.
- According to the Journal, PG&E in 2013 told federal regulators that it was planning extensive maintenance on the Caribou-Palermo transmission line, but the project was never undertaken. The utility said the Journal article "inaccurately describes the work that was proposed," adding that the project was not maintenance-related and the timing was extended "due to additional operational and engineering work."
- California fire investigators are still working to determine the cause of Camp Fire, which began on Nov. 8, around the time a wire on the line snapped. On Thursday, in its 2018 annual earnings, PG&E recorded a $10.5 billion charge related to Camp Fire and a $1 billion charge related to 2017 wildfires in Northern California.
Following devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018, PG&E said it is taking action now on "important safety and maintenance measures" that have been identified through accelerated and enhanced safety inspections. But the utility said the Journal's report of delayed maintenance work is incorrect and mischaracterized the issues.
"We disagree with the overall premise of the Wall Street Journal article. It inaccurately portrays planned electric transmission regulatory compliance work, and omits key aspects of the work we are currently doing to enhance safety," the company said in a statement.
PG&E shares fell Wednesday, down slightly more than 3%, following the Journal's report on the Caribou-Palermo line maintenance. The company released its fourth-quarter and full-year 2018 earnings this morning, reporting a net loss of $6.84 billion in 2018. The company previously said it "will not be hosting an associated conference call for members of the financial community."
According to the utility, the work planned for the Caribou-Palermo in response to a North American Electric Reliability Corp. Alert "was not maintenance-related" and did not relate to identifying and fixing broken or worn parts.
"It was focused on addressing the vertical clearances of certain power line spans, such as conductor-to-conductor clearance or conductor-to-ground clearance," PG&E said. "It is also important to point out that the specific tower on that line that is the focus of the Camp Fire investigation, and which was discussed in our Electric Incident Reports, was not slated for work under this program, as it was determined to not have a vertical ground-to-conductor clearance issue."
PG&E also said the story failed to point out the progress which has been made as a result of the NERC Alert program, which includes addressing more than 9,800 discrepancies out of approximately 11,500 identified for work, at a cost of over $700 million.
PG&E said that by the time it completes the remaining NERC work in 2022, "the total cost is projected to be over $1 billion."
In January, PG&E filed for bankruptcy related to mounting wildfire liabilities. And the California Public Utilities Commission is considering splitting the company, separating gas and electric services into separate entities, in an effort to improve their safety.
PG&E has said that could create some safety improvements, but would also be a likely mean higher customer rates.
While PG&E struggles with its bankruptcy, the company is also working alongside other California utilities to develop wildfire mitigation plans in advance of the next fire season. A 2018 law, SB 901, added requirements to utilities' fire plans and took other steps to mitigate risk.
A technical workshop and pre-hearing conference were held this week; the proceeding is on a rapid pace, with mitigation plans expected to be approved in May.
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