STOCKTON, Calif. - Many consumers believe that all Pacific Gas and Electric can do these days is raise prices on electricity and natural gas.
PG&E's facility on McDonald Island, 10 miles west of Stockton in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has been in operation for more than a half-century. PG&E has stored natural gas a mile underground in a former gas mine.
"So we're able to purchase gas when the cost is lower, store it, and then withdraw it to serve our customers when prices increase," said Lynsey Paulo, a spokesperson for the utility.
Demand for natural gas is highest from November to March, the so-called winter heating season nationwide.
"Natural gas storage is, to me, the battery of natural gas. Storage assures safe, reliable operations of natural gas," said PG&E Gas Control Manager Dan Tank.
That's because during winter, especially cold snaps, natural gas is painfully expensive. It worked well in the early 2023 winter cold snap.
"We were able to draw down or withdraw gas from our storage facility at that time and really protect our customers from that price spike, to save our customers over a billion dollars last year," said Paulo.
Although PG&E has three other smaller natural gas storage fields, the San Joaquin facility could keep the entire PG&E system running for three weeks.
"This is an engineering marvel," said Lucy Redmond, director of Gas Storage Asset Management at PG&E. "Our job is to manage those assets and keep them in top working condition, update the facility, and add telemetry and automatic valves that allow our crews to be attuned to monitoring the facility and making it more efficient."
The facility is built on a leveed-up track, and because of that, should the levee break, there could be a problem. However, everything that counts is up, well above sea level, and the operations would continue as normal.
"We have a lot of automation. We have a lot of controls in place; stopgaps that assure that everything we're doing, we can assure that it’s safe and reliable," said Tank.
Though PG&E buys enormous amounts of gas and electricity from other producers, it is prohibited by law from adding a profit for itself.