PG&E Fined for Lack of Safety Records

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 @ 04:03 PM gHale

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) will pay a fine of $3 million for what state regulators called “willful non-compliance” with orders to provide key documents about transmission pipelines.

At issue was the utility’s response to a California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) order for paperwork by March 15 vouching for the safety of pressure levels for 1,805 miles in PG&E’s gas-transmission system. The agency issued the demand after a PG&E pipeline in San Bruno exploded Sept. 9, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.

Instead of providing specifics when it made its reply filing last week, PG&E cited historical records to justify gas-pressure levels on 455 miles and admitted it had no documentation for an additional 140 miles.

Agency staffers then suggested PG&E face fines as much as a $1 million for every day it fails to produce the documents, a proposal the five-member commission endorsed Thursday.

Two commissioners will review the agreement, and the full panel will eventually vote on whether to accept it.

PUC Executive Director, Paul Clanon said staffers and PG&E agreed to the deal after the company filed a follow-up report Monday in which it promised to keep looking for the needed documentation. Clanon said he had led an “intensive series of discussions” with PG&E officials “at the most senior levels” that resulted in the agreement.

“The first thing it does is penalize PG&E,” Clanon said. “PG&E was out of compliance last week.”

“It’s a novel approach — it is the result of the game-changing nature of San Bruno,” Clanon said.

The utilities commission has not fined PG&E for problems with its gas system for more than a decade, records show, relying instead on a scheme that favored “voluntary compliance.” Regulators had defended the approach following the San Bruno blast, despite numbers showing PG&E had more gas-safety violations than any other utility in the state.

PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said the company “made a good faith effort” to comply with the March 15 deadline, and the pending agreement “simply resolves” the matter.

“The schedule we came to with the PUC is aggressive, and PG&E is committed to it,” he said.

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