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Posts Tagged ‘California Public Utilities Commission’

Wednesday, September 2, 2015 @ 02:09 PM gHale

After failing to fix security problems at a San Jose power substation exposed by a 2013 sniper attack, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is now facing a $50,000 fine.

PG&E failed to safely maintain its Metcalf substation, allowing burglars to breach its fence and steal $40,000 worth of equipment more than a year after someone shot up the site, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

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The commission’s safety and enforcement division found numerous gaps in security at the substation, including a lack of training for supervisors and on-site personnel.

Among other problems, security guards failed to respond to burglar alarms while the August 2014 break-in was in progress, the commission said.

After the burglary in August, PG&E said it conducted an analysis to identify what it could do to prevent a recurrence. It said all Metcalf upgrades identified in the investigation are complete.

The gaps in security first came to light April 16, 2013, when the substation fell under attack by gunfire. There were no injuries, but there was $15 million in damage to 17 transformers. It also shook up an industry worried about terrorism.

The utilities commission said that attack exposed security weaknesses that PG&E should have addressed.

Despite the earlier scare, the burglary the night of Aug. 26, 2014, didn’t come to the attention of PG&E security officials until the next morning, the commission said.

Security guards on duty at the substation either ignored or didn’t hear alarms as burglars stole construction equipment from the substation and an adjacent yard, the state agency said.

“This was the second time, and even though the alarms went off, PG&E security didn’t know that it happened,” said Constance Gordon, spokeswoman for the utilities commission. “They had time after the previous breach to improve the security, but they didn’t.”

In a statement, PG&E said it replaced its third-party guard contractor since the burglary, improved lighting and camera systems at Metcalf, and increased the number of security officers at the substation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 @ 03:01 PM gHale

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is facing $530,000 in fines for safety violations for failing to “immediately excavate and examine pipelines that showed signs of signs of potential corrosion” and repair potentially hazardous defects, said the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

The fines include $430,000 for violations first discovered during an audit that began in September 2012, and confirmed by another investigation by the regulatory agency that “lasted in 2014.”

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The utility ended up fined another $100,000 for letting non-qualified personnel perform field work, causing potential hazards for the public and utility employees. Investigators found those violations during an audit started in November 2013.

“We’re evaluating the citations and it’s important for our customers to know that since these audits took place, we’ve taken action by making significant process improvements,” said Donald Cutler, a PG&E spokesman. “We are working to resolve the issues to the satisfaction of the CPUC.”

PG&E has 10 days to pay up or contest the fines, the CPUC said.

The safety citations are small when you look at the other costs PG&E incurred since the 2010 San Bruno explosion, including a $70 million settlement with the city of San Bruno, $565 million to settle claims with San Bruno victims and families, and a $1.4 billion fine imposed by the CPUC last September, along with $635 million in repairs.

Monday, August 18, 2014 @ 05:08 PM gHale

Southern California Edison (SCE) received a $24.5 million fine for safety violations uncovered after a 2011 windstorm left 440,000 customers without lights and a power line failure electrocuted three family members.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the penalty Thursday after Edison agreed to it in March, the commission said.

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Edison gave inaccurate information on power restoration and violated safety standards during the 2011 windstorm, CPUC said.

In a separate incident, blame fell on the utility for a power line that fell to the ground and killed a man, his wife and their son.

An agency investigation found Edison failed to maintain poles or other power equipment that were factors in both cases.

$15 million of the penalty will go to the state’s general fund, and the rest to efforts to quell public safety concerns over electrical conductors and utility pole overloading, CPUC said.

Edison said it submitted a joint motion with the commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division seeking approval of the agreement, and the funds would come from shareholders and would not affect customer rates.

“SCE believes the settlement is in the public interest and allows it to move forward with the utility’s principal mission of providing safe, reliable and affordable electric service,” the utility said.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 @ 06:03 PM gHale

One of California’s largest utilities will pay a $24.5 million penalty for safety violations uncovered after a 2011 windstorm left more than 400,000 customers without lights and a power-line failure electrocuted three family members, state regulators said Thursday.

The proposed decisions by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) staff said Southern California Edison (SCE) also violated rules by failing to preserve evidence needed to investigate power-pole collapses that occurred during the storm.

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An agency investigation found SCE failed in numerous cases to maintain poles or other power equipment that were factors in both cases.

The company said in a statement the settlement is “in the public interest.” SCE submitted a joint motion with the commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division seeking approval of the agreement.

The commission will most likely not consider the penalty until at least May. If approved, funds for the agreement would come from company shareholders and would not impact customer rates, Edison said.

On Nov. 30, 2011, powerful Santa Ana winds generated gusts nearing 100 mph, leaving hundreds of downed trees and tangled high-voltage power lines that blocked streets, keeping repair trucks from reaching many hard-hit areas. Uprooted trees remained on sidewalks and in gutters days afterward.

SCE officials later called the crisis caused by the storm unprecedented and apologized to customers for delays restoring power.

CPUC said SCE gave inaccurate information on power restoration and violated safety standards during the storm, which left 440,000 customers without power.

Among its findings, the investigation found 248 wooden electric poles damaged and broken. At least 21 poles did not meet safety requirements, for factors including termite damage or extensive rot. In addition, the probe found SCE’s emergency procedures were not up to date.

The utility also ended up blamed for an electric-pole conductor that fell to the ground, killing a man, his wife and their son. The investigation found the Jan. 14, 2011 deaths in Acacia, in San Bernardino County, were the result of SCE’s “failure to properly maintain its electric system in compliance with state law and commission regulations.”

The probe found “similar conductor failures have been occurring for the past six years on the same circuit and in the proximity of this incident. However, SCE did not take appropriate measures to prevent such recurrences.”

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 @ 04:12 PM gHale

The California Public Utilities Commission returned $375,000 Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) paid as a natural-gas safety penalty, so the regulators can legally fine the utility as much as $2.5 billion.

The commission’s safety enforcement division imposed the fine earlier this month in response to a 2012 audit concluding that for more than four decades, PG&E lacked a legally required procedure to systematically monitor its gas-transmission pipelines for problems such as leaks and improper pressure levels.

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Without a “unifying” system, PG&E’s gas-safety practices were “disconnected and did not result in effective” monitoring of its major pipelines, the safety division said. PG&E promptly paid the fine.

Not so fast, the regulators said. The agency’s safety arm sent a letter to PG&E withdrawing the citation, along with a check from the state treasurer for $375,000.

The problem for the utilities commission was many of PG&E’s gas-safety shortcomings have been at the center of exhaustive hearings into practices that contributed to the September 2010 explosion of a transmission pipeline in San Bruno. The blast killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, and PG&E is facing as much as $2.5 billion in fines.

Commission legal-division attorneys involved in the San Bruno case were unaware of the $375,000 fine before the safety division issued it. They told attorneys for other parties in the San Bruno case it could trigger a form of regulatory double jeopardy.

In a statement Friday, the commission said it was returning the check to prevent any “confusion” between the conduct that prompted the $375,000 fine and the San Bruno case.

But dropping the citation and returning the money may not eliminate the utilities commission’s problem. Attorneys for parties involved in the San Bruno case said PG&E could point to the lower fine in arguing that a multibillion-dollar penalty for the disaster, which stemmed from many of the same gas-system deficiencies, would be excessive.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 @ 03:12 PM gHale

It may now be retired, but that does not mean safety regulators gave up on trying to get to the bottom of why and how the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station ended up disabled.

That means an operator of the nuclear power plant is facing a citation from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for failing to properly check the design of faulty replacement steam generators that disabled the plant.

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The violation notice from the NRC carries no explicit penalties but complicates efforts by Southern California Edison to recover an array of plant costs and remaining assets on behalf of its shareholders. The California Public Utilities Commission is considering an initial $94 million refund to customers of Edison and minority plant owner San Diego Gas & Electric, with more extensive plant costs still under review for additional and possibly larger refunds.

Edison has 30 days to appeal the nuclear commission’s determination.

“We will evaluate the final determination letter from the NRC and respond within 30 days with appropriate corrective actions,” said Edison spokeswoman Maureen Brown.

San Onofre stopped producing power in January 2012 when workers found a small radiation leak and traced it back to rapid wear among steam generator tubes carrying radioactive water. Company officials retired the plant’s twin reactors in June.

The NRC found, contrary to regulations, “design control measures were not established to provide for verifying and checking the adequacy of certain designs.”

Edison has laid the blame for the plant’s problems on generator manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan and botched computer calculations that underestimated steam velocities within the generators, installed in 2010 and 2011.

Rosemead, CA-based Edison is seeking damages from Mitsubishi through binding arbitration. Mitsubishi is defending the limits of its $137.5 million warranty for its four replacement generators. Attempted repairs, consultants and replacement power have raised disputed costs to well over $1 billion.

Nuclear commission spokesman Victor Dricks said the violation notice itself, first outlined in a September draft, carries no penalties or sanctions.

The plant shutdown was of “low to moderate safety significance” in the federal nuclear agency’s final assessment, following 16 months of on-site inspections and detailed analysis at regional commission offices in Texas and headquarters in Maryland.

U.S. representatives for Mitsubishi were not immediately available for comment. Mitsubishi ended up faulted by the commission in September in a “notice of nonconformance” related to flawed computer codes used in the design of the replacement generators.

Mitsubishi said a generator design team that included Edison experts believed vibration issues ended up fixed after they installed additional tube supports. Mitsubishi said there was no way to anticipate the unprecedented type of tube vibrations that occurred in the exceptionally large generators commissioned by Edison.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013 @ 02:12 PM gHale

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) is facing a fine of more than $14 million for the utility’s “delay and obfuscation” in revealing that its records for a natural-gas pipeline in San Carlos failed to show potentially risky welds, California regulators said.

However, the five-member California Public Utilities Commission also voted to allow PG&E to restore the line to nearly full pressure, accepting the company’s reassurances that the transmission pipe is safe.

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The commissioners, all of them gubernatorial appointees, took turns lashing out at PG&E at their meeting in San Francisco before fining the company $50,000 a day for the 229 days executives waited to disclose the records problem — $11.45 million in all. They added a $2.9 million fine against the company for filing a document with the state that allegedly downplayed the seriousness of the safety issues.

“This penalty is designed to serve as a deterrent,” said Commissioner Mark Ferron, who led the push to approve a larger fine than the $6.75 million recommended by an administrative law judge.

“This fine sends a strong message to PG&E and all utilities we regulate that delay and obfuscation will not be tolerated,” Ferron said.

Commissioner Catherine Sandoval also went after top management, particularly Earley, for characterizing the San Carlos situation not as a safety hazard, but as a case of PG&E failing to observe regulatory niceties.

“No explanation has been given for that very long time period” during which PG&E withheld its record-keeping problem, Sandoval said. “I’m particularly concerned that it reflects a lack of candor.”

If it hadn’t been for “eagle-eyed people with shovels,” she said, the problem might still be there.

PG&E’s records for the 3.8-mile transmission line, known as Line 147, showed certain segments had no seam welds. However, when a work crew dug up the line at Brittan and Rogers avenues in October 2012 for routine repairs on a water line, a PG&E engineer spotted a suspected leak. PG&E crews then discovered welds dating from the 1920s that implicated in several pipeline failures elsewhere.

There were obvious similarities to the situation in San Bruno before the September 2010 explosion of a transmission pipeline that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. That pipe failed at a weld that PG&E didn’t know was there because its records showed the line had no seams. As a result, PG&E had never tested the line for potentially bad welds.

A consulting engineer asked PG&E executives in a November 2012 email whether they were facing “another San Bruno situation” in San Carlos, where the company did not know what kind of pipe it had in the ground. He wondered whether PG&E may have made a hidden problem worse when it tested Line 147 with high-pressure water in 2011, without knowing the suspect welds were there.

PG&E didn’t report the concerns to the state utilities commission staff until this past March. In July, it filed paperwork with the commission that appeared to be a notification of harmless errors.

The utilities commission is likely to decide sometime next year how much PG&E should end up fined for the San Bruno explosion and problems that contributed to it. Estimates of the fine range up to $2.5 billion.

PG&E insisted its test on the San Carlos pipeline in 2011 would have revealed any weld problems and that the line is safe. The commission, which had ordered PG&E to cut pressure on the pipeline sharply in October, indicated that company experts’ testimony had been persuasive and voted to let the utility push pressure back to nearly full level.

PG&E officials said they were pleased with the vote to restore the pressure on Line 147 but said the $14.4 million fine was “excessive.”

“We acknowledge our communication efforts fell short of expectations in this instance,” PG&E executives said in a statement. “We are committed to improving the way that we communicate” with the commission.

The statement said PG&E had “no intent to mislead or deceive the commission or its staff regarding Line 147.”

Monday, June 10, 2013 @ 05:06 PM gHale

The beleaguered San Onofre nuclear power plant on the California coast is closing after an epic 16-month battle over whether the twin reactors could safely restart.

Operator Southern California Edison (SCE) said it will retire the twin reactors because of uncertainty about the future of the plant, which faced a tangle of regulatory hurdles, investigations and mounting political opposition. With the reactors idle, the company has spent more than $500 million on repairs and replacement power.

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San Onofre could power 1.4 million homes. California officials have said they would be able to make it through the summer without the plant but warned that wildfires or another disruption in distribution could cause power shortages.

It wasn’t clear how SCE would replace electrical production from the plant permanently. The California Public Utilities Commission said it will work with governments to ensure Southern California has enough electricity, which will require increased energy efficiency and conservation during peak usage, as well as upgrades to transmission and generation resources.

The plant between San Diego and Los Angeles hasn’t produced electricity since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water.

The plant “has served this region for over 40 years,” said Ted Craver, chairman of SCE parent Edison International. “But we have concluded that the continuing uncertainty about when or if (the plant) might return to service was not good for our customers, our investors or the need to plan for our region’s long-term electricity needs.”

SCE had been seeking permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power, in hopes of stopping vibration that had damaged the tubing.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is aware of Southern California Edison’s plans to permanently shut down San Onofre, but we are waiting for formal notification of their decision,” said Victor Dricks, spokesman for NRC.

The problems center on steam generators installed during a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010. After the plant shut down, tests found some generator tubes were so badly eroded they could fail and possibly release radiation, a stunning finding inside the nearly new equipment.

The four generators at San Onofre — two per reactor, each with 9,727 alloy tubes — function something like a car radiator, which controls heat in the vehicle’s engine. The generator tubes circulate hot, radioactive water from the reactors, which then heats a bath of non-radioactive water surrounding them. That makes steam, which then turns turbines to make electricity.

Edison has argued for months the Unit 2 plant could safely restart, but Craver raised the possibility of closing the plant because of lingering uncertainty about the future. The company had said little about the future of the heavily damaged Unit 3 reactor.

Questions arose over changes to the replacement generators — they were different than the originals, 23.6 tons heavier and hundreds of additional tubes ended up a part of design changes.

SCE, San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside own San Onofre. The Unit 1 reactor operated from 1968 to 1992, when officials shut it down and dismantled it.

Thursday, May 9, 2013 @ 02:05 PM gHale

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) should pay a $2.25 billion fine for its negligence leading up to the deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion in a San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood, a state agency said.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) investigators said the fine, would be the largest ever assessed by a state regulator, was an appropriate remedy for dozens of violations extending back decades, and said the company’s shareholders should shoulder the cost, not the utility’s customers.

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“They have just plain failed to follow safety standards in so many areas,” said Brigadier General Jack Hagan, director of the commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division. “This is going to send a very strong deterrent message to PG&E that this kind of conduct and culture will not be tolerated.”

The blast in San Bruno sparked a fireball that killed eight people, injured dozens more and destroyed 38 homes in the quiet bedroom community.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unanimously agreed in 2011 that the accident was the result of what board chairman Deborah Hersman called a “litany of failures” by PG&E, as well as weak oversight by regulators.

Separate from the NTSB investigation, investigators at the utilities commission blamed PG&E for the explosion, which occurred when an underground pipeline ruptured at the site of a decades-old faulty weld, sparking a gas-fueled fire.

The City of San Bruno, which is still struggling to rebuild the neighborhood devastated in the blast, said earlier Monday the utility’s shareholders should pay no less than $1.25 billion in fines, plus at least $1 billion toward pipeline inspection and upgrade costs.

PG&E will file its proposal later this month, and a judge from the utilities commission will make a final decision about how much to fine PG&E later this year.

“The penalties proposed by the commission staff and others far exceed anything that I have seen in my 30 years in the industry,” PG&E Corp. Chief Executive Tony Earley said. He added the penalty “could dramatically set back our efforts to do the right thing by making it harder and more costly to finance the remaining improvements that are needed in our gas system.”

Consumer advocates said the fine the commission proposed was appropriate, given the company’s myriad violations before the blast and an outside consultant’s finding that PG&E could raise $2.25 billion in equity to cover fines without damaging its financial condition.

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