California intensifies PG&E oversight for tree trimming failures

The California Public Utilities Commission has taken action against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for failing to prioritize tree trimming around electric lines in high wildfire danger zones.

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Commission placed PG&E into step one of the enhanced oversight and enforcement process, giving the utility until May 5 to come up with a Corrective Action Plan.

The process has six steps, triggered by specific events, which if all reached, would result in PG&E losing its license and the state taking over the utility.

In this case, the CPUC’s Wildfire Safety Division said the company failed to focus its vegetation management around the highest-risk power lines in 2020. Instead, it trimmed trees near lower risk ones, based on the company’s own risk rankings.

PG&E’s reports show last year it did clear vegetation around nearly 1,800 miles of power lines.

But an audit found less than 5% of that was around those the company considered highest risk.

With the Commission’s decision, PG&E must explain its failures, how it’s going to change modeling data, internal decision making, and how to improve communication with crews on the ground, among other things.

Commissioners expressed their disappointment for PG&E's failures and the desire to hold the utility accountable.

"Our orders mean something. They are to be complied with," Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma said. "We are evoking these steps. All of the regulated entities need to pay attention."

PG&E must make continuous progress under the order and will also have to submit progress reports every 90 days.

CPUC safety staff will closely monitor PG&E’s corrective actions and ensure prioritization is carried out by its crews on the ground.

If the utility shows significant improvements this year, it could be removed from the enhanced oversight process. But if it doesn't meet corrective actions requirements, the Commission may pursue advancing the utility in the process. 

In an effort for transparency, a webpage is being setup so the public can keep track on PG&E’s progress.

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU