PG&E's own documents make national headlines

A report in today's edition of the Wall Street Journal says PG&E's own documents describe that the utility knew full well of the bad condition of the electric transmission lines that wiped out the town of Paradise and took the lives of 85 people last November.

All of this amounts to a body slam to a company already reeling from a swarm of firestorms the likes of which we've never seen, and we're expecting more.

The PG&E documents say that 49 of the huge steel transmission towers holding up power lines serving Paradise needed more than maintenance: they need to be replaced.

The gist of recent reports is that PG&E did not exercise due care in inspecting or maintaining them.

PG&E responded by releasing the following statement:

A report, done in 2017, said back then, PG&E's transmission towers had an average age of 68 years; the oldest being 108 years old.

Energy Economist Severin Borenstein, of the UC Berkeley's Energy Institute at Haas Business School, says utilities use risk analysis to decide if and when to upgrade or replace major infrastructure.

"If the dangers have increased, as they certainly have over the years due to climate change, then that calls for more maintenance and earlier maintenance to make sure that these fires don't start," said Professor Borenstein.

PG&E said it was going to overhaul the Paradise Transmission Line 6 years ago, but never did, choosing to concentrate and spend on other things; raising this question. "Were these a real danger that was neglected, whether intentionally or through a financial choice they made to take these risks?" said Borenstein.

As we've reported many times, neither CPUC nor Federal power regulators have any significant, independent inspection system to check PG&E's work, relying instead on the utilities to do that critical job.

"In California, where it looks like the same sort of mistakes we made 50 years ago are going to have much more catastrophic effects now, we need to step up the regulatory game as well as step up the performance of the utilities," said Borenstein.

Which raises the ultimate question: who should pay?

"If these reports are accurate, it seems like it rises to the level of negligence and if it's negligence, then I think it's appropriate that PG&E shareholders pay all that they have before anybody else stepped in like the government or ratepayers," said Borenstein.

The Federal judge overseeing PG&E's criminal probation from the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline blast has ordered the company, by July 31st, to respond to each and every paragraph of today's Wall Street Journal story, paragraph by paragraph with a "fresh, forthright statement owning up to the true extent of the WSJ report."