Sunday December 04, 2022

PG&E’s criminal probation has ended, but the company is still a’menace for California’

The US District Court judge who supervised the probation said that PG&E, a troubled utility in California, will end a five-year felony probation that failed to rehabilitate it. “In these five-years, PG&E went on a crime spree” and will emerge from probation as a continued threat to California,” US District Judge William Alsup wrote in a scathing review released days before the probationary period ends at midnight.
After being convicted of six felonies in connection to a natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010, which killed eight people, the company was placed on probation. PG&E was fined $3 million and placed on probation for the maximum period.
Alsup writes that PG&E has been causing more destruction since then. Alsup’s report states that PG&E was responsible at least 31 blazes that claimed the lives of 113 people and destroyed 23,956 homes and buildings while on probation. The 2018 Camp Fire was the most deadly and destructive. It destroyed Paradise and led to 84 involuntary murder charges. PG&E is also facing numerous charges related to other blazes.
Alsup said that systemic problems at PG&E were responsible for the devastation. He described how the utility fails to clear hazardous trees and vegetation around its power lines. These trees are required to be managed by PG&E under the California Public Resource Code. “Virtually all of the wildfires caused PG&E distribution line lines” PG&E was also required to remove or trim any trees that could come into contact with its equipment as part of its probation.
Alsup called PG&E’s backlog in hazardous trees and vegetation “staggering” at the beginning of probation. However, the utility is still seven years behind in maintenance. The company relies on outside contractors for the task of clearing hazardous vegetation away from its power lines. When problems arise, it points fingers at those contractors. Alsup claims that PG&E’s use contractors helps it cut costs and allows it to “make a strategic defense against wildfire litigation.”
The judge stated that the company must hire and train its own arborists. He also expressed regret that PG&E was only required to hire 30 vegetation inspectors during probation.
Preemptive blackouts were implemented by PG&E in 2019 as a result of PG&E equipment triggering blazes. These outages not only prevent fires but also pose problems for residents who are left without power. Alsup claims that the company has “watered back” its criteria for cutting off power before windstorms, despite being under court pressure to do so.
The Dixie fire, which erupted in northern California last year and became the second-largest in California’s history, was a striking example of both these problems. PG&E took a slow approach to de-energize a circuit despite signs that its distribution lines were in trouble. Employees eventually discovered the problem. It was discovered that a tree was leaning against an energized wire. The tree overheated and ignited the Dixie fire. In an earlier month investigation, Cal Fire found that PG&E was responsible for the conflagration.
In an email to The Verge today, James Noonan, spokesperson for PG&E, stated that “we acknowledge that we have more to do.” Noonan said that the utility has become “fundamentally more secure” over the course of its probation.
Alsup believes differently. The judge wrote that Alsup feels differently.

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