The California Public Utilities Commission ordered Pacific Gas and Electric today to pay $14.3 million for faulty record keeping related to a San Carlos gas pipeline and also unanimously gave the utility approval to increase pressure in that same line.
San Carlos Mayor Mark Olbert lauded the fine as well-deserved and appropriate but found it interesting that the same commission imposing it on one hand and lambasting PG&E over safety on the other was telling the city to work with the utility.
“It’s like how can you tell us five minutes ago to work with these guys,” Olbert said, “and then turn around and say but they’re such scoundrels?”
Olbert and other city officials including City Manager Jeff Maltbie had been urging the CPUC to postpone a vote on the line pressure until January or at the very least pull it off of consent and hold a public hearing. State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, also sent the commission a letter with the same request.
The commission did pull the item and discussed it but ultimately voted 5-0 in favor of letting Line 147 operate at the maximum operating pressure of 330 pounds per square inch gauge.
The line was temporarily taken out of service after questions were raised about its safety but later reinstated at a reduced pressure of 124 psi.
In its approval today, the commission based its decision on staff which found that PG&E provided sufficient information on its pressure test results and safety certification of the line. Also, on Dec. 6, Administrative Law Judge Maribeth Bushey recommended the CPUC allow PG&E to restore the pressure.
Olbert and the others though weren’t as convinced, particularly because of erroneous record keeping and communication lapses on PG&E’s part that led the city to declare a state of emergency in October. That month, city officials learned of November 2012 emails by a PG&E engineer questioning the safety of 84-year-old gas transmission Line 147 which runs parallel to Brittan Avenue. The former engineer suggested the city could be “another San Bruno situation” in reference to the Sept. 9, 2010 gas line explosion and fire that killed eight, injured dozens and destroyed 38 homes. The engineer also questioned if hydrotesting in 2011 exacerbated cracking.
After declaring the state of emergency, San Carlos officials allocated $250,000 for its own consultants which Olbert said he wished the CPUC would have heard from before raising the pressure.
“This whole process feels very much like a rush to a preordained judgment and, at the end of the day, I don’t see how that serves the legitimate safety interests of my community,” Olbert said.
Hill said the CPUC’s move gives him some pause, particularly as PG&E has not testified about needing the extra gas for the winter months.
“They certainly didn’t need it last week when they had the greatest usage,” Hill said.
Olbert said the city will now look at other options like possible legal action or revisiting the issue with the commission.
“This is not necessarily over,” Olbert said.
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