Posts Tagged ‘PG&E’
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 @ 06:09 PM gHale
It is one thing to talk about a cyber attack on a power plant, but a physical attack takes on another look entirely.
That is because an attack last year on the Silicon Valley’s power grid appears to have involved only one shooter and did not require access to technology or a high degree of training, an FBI official said.
John Lightfoot, who manages the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area, spoke at a utility industry conference in San Francisco Tuesday and reiterated the bureau’s position that there is no indication the April 2013 shooting of a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) power station outside San Jose was an act of terrorism.
Jon Wellinghoff, former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, called the attack a sophisticated act of terrorism and raised concerns about the security of the nation’s power grid. Other officials have echoed his concerns.
Lighthouse said the attack was not difficult to execute. Though more than one person may have been involved in the full incident, FBI investigators think there was just one shooter, he said. Additionally, Lighthouse said many of the shots missed the target.
“We don’t think this was a sophisticated attack,” Lighthouse said in a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The incident began when one or more people lifted heavy manhole covers south of San Jose, climbed under the road and cut AT&T fiber optic cables, temporarily knocking out 911 service and phone service, sheriff’s officials have said.
About 15 minutes later, someone fired a high-powered rifle into a nearby PG&E substation, damaging numerous transformers.
Wellinghoff, who was in office during the incident, has said he reached his conclusion after consulting with Defense Department experts.
Lighthouse said the attack does not meet the bureau’s definition of terrorism. The FBI is not aware of any political or social agenda the incident was able to further, and Lighthouse said no one has claimed responsibility for it.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 @ 09:04 PM gHale
Facing 12 criminal felony counts that allege it intentionally violated federal pipeline safety laws in connection with the 2010 natural gas explosion in San Bruno that killed 8 people, injured 66 and destroyed 38 homes, PG&E pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday.
The utility, whose executives weren’t present for the arraignment, entered the not guilty plea through its attorneys at a hearing at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
If PG&E ended up convicted on all 12 felony counts, the utility could face a fine of up to $6 million. But the penalties could exceed $6 million if the court finds the company gained financially from its misconduct or if the victims’ losses come into play, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case.
San Francisco-based PG&E, in a news release issued after the arraignment, said, “While we don’t believe any employee intentionally violated federal pipeline safety regulations, the legal process will ensure that all of the facts related to this tragic event are fully reviewed.”
It characterized the San Bruno blast as “a tragic accident,” and added: “We’re accountable for that and make no excuses. Most of all, we are deeply sorry.”
PG&E said it committed $2.7 billion to upgrade and improve its century-old natural gas system. In an earlier filing, it warned securities regulators and its investors that it could end up forced to accept court-supervised control by an outside authority of some or all of the utility’s natural gas operations.
In a separate proceeding before the state Public Utilities Commission, PG&E faces fines of up to $2 billion as its punishment for the San Bruno explosion.
After a pair of administrative law judges at the PUC review the facts related to the potential fines and issue a proposed ruling, the five-member PUC will make a final decision, expected before the end of the year.
Thursday, April 3, 2014 @ 05:04 PM gHale
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) is facing federal felony counts involving safety violations linked to a deadly 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The indictment charges the utility with 12 felony violations of federal pipeline safety laws, which could carry a total possible fine of $6 million, or more if the court decides it somehow benefited financially from the disaster.
Federal prosecutors said PG&E knowingly relied on erroneous and incomplete information when assessing the safety of the pipeline that eventually ruptured, sparked a fireball and leveled 38 homes in San Bruno, CA.
Nearly four years later, the neighborhood where eight people died and dozens injured is still recovering.
“The citizens of Northern California deserve to have their utility providers put the safety of the community first,” U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said.
The indictment accuses the company of failing to act on threats in its pipeline system even after their own inspectors identified the problems.
About a year after the explosion, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board found these lapses by PG&E led to the blast.
The board also characterized the explosion as an “organizational incident,” not a simple mechanical failure.
PG&E Chairman and Chief Executive Tony Earley said Tuesday the company is holding itself accountable and is deeply sorry.
“We have worked hard to do the right thing for victims, their families and the community, and we will continue to do so,” Earley said in a statement. “We want all of our customers and their families to know that nothing will distract us from our mission of transforming this 100-plus-year-old system into the safest and most reliable natural gas system in the country.”
PG&E Corp., the parent company of PG&E, said on its website the “federal criminal charges filed today have no merit.”
“PG&E believes that its employees did not intentionally violate the federal Pipeline Safety Act, and that even where mistakes were made, employees were acting in good faith to provide customers with safe, reliable and affordable energy,” the statement said.
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.
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 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.
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.”
Thursday, November 7, 2013 @ 06:11 PM gHale
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. was hit with a $8.1 million fine for a contractor’s botched inspections of more than 200 welds on natural gas pipelines from Petaluma to Lodi, California regulators said.
The contractor, TC Inspections Inc. of Rodeo, performed substandard inspections of 224 welds on a dozen pipelines during a testing and replacement program that PG&E began after the San Bruno explosion of 2010 that killed eight people, according to the state Public Utilities Commission.
The gas transmission lines run under cities including Oakland, El Cerrito, Livermore, Petaluma, Lodi and Manteca, and the Calaveras County hamlets of San Andreas and Valley Springs, the commission said.
PG&E discovered problems with the company’s work when crews replaced a gas line in Brentwood. It found TC Inspections had performed substandard X-ray inspections on girth welds running under Fairview Avenue between Fairview Court and Balfour Road, the utilities commission said.
That line was not in service, so the commission’s staff did not fine PG&E for the Brentwood problems. However, the other pipelines that TC Inspections had vouched for were in service.
PG&E is ultimately responsible for the pipes’ condition, regardless of whether it delegated the inspection work to an outside contractor, the commission said in levying the $8.1 million fine.
None of the lines poses a public danger, said Sumeet Singh, the PG&E engineer who oversees the tracking and inspection of the company’s pipelines.
Federal and state rules require each new girth weld on an urban line to be X-rayed around its circumference. Instead of three X-ray images, TC Inspections performed only two, leaving part of each weld uninspected, PG&E officials said.
Monday, August 12, 2013 @ 05:08 PM gHale
The Boardman Coal Plant is back online after a thermal water hammer knocked a 36-inch-diameter pipe off its hangers July 1, causing $10 million in damage.
Portland General Electric, which operates the facility in Boardman, OR, and owns 65 percent of its 575-megawatt capacity, released the repairs July 31. Spokesman Steve Corson said it remains up in the air as to how the cost will end up divided among PGE and minority owners Idaho Power, Power Resources Cooperative and Bank of America.
Thermal water hammer occurs when hot steam carried in piping comes in contact with cooler liquids and gases, causing the bubbles to condense rapidly which leads to a sudden change in pressure and sometimes implosion. While not uncommon in the industry, Corson said it is the first incident of that magnitude in Boardman.
No workers suffered an injury, and the pipe did not rupture or release any steam. No customers ended up affected by the shutdown, Corson said, though PGE spent somewhere between $3 million and $4 million on replacement power from its own generation and other wholesale sources.
The utility draws 374 megawatts from the plant, which is enough for 250,000 residential customers.
“We’re pleased we were able to bring the plant back online and get that power flowing,” Corson said.
The Boardman plant has 110 full-time employees. Plans right now call for the plant to end coal-fired operations by 2020 and PGE said in June it will build a new 440-megawatt natural gas plant adjacent to the current facility. Construction is on tap to begin early next year, Corson said.
PGE serves more than 800,000 customers in Portland, Salem and the northern Willamette Valley.
Friday, July 26, 2013 @ 05:07 PM gHale
This time a warning allowed people to clear out when a gas leak resulted from a damaged PG&E line.
An evacuation order lasted almost four hours ended up lifted for parts of Alamo, CA, Wednesday afternoon as crews continued to repair the damaged line.
Alerts to evacuate went out shortly before noon by multiple agencies after a work crew hit the gas line around 10:30 a.m., PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said.
An East Bay Municipal Utility District crew hit the line, Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jimmy Lee said. Crews had not determined the size of the leak, Sarkissian said.
A telephone emergency notification went out to more than 900 phone lines in the affected area of Alamo, Lee said, and officials ordered residents on Alamo Square Drive to leave their homes and move as far south on the street as possible.
Residents could only take essential items they could carry with them and to turn off all heat sources in their residences. They also had to leash their pets or put them in carriers.
Businesses in the central business district also evacuated, Danville police Lt. Jeff Moule said.
People also told residents to stay off phones unless they needed to report a life-threatening emergency in that location, Lee said. Those physically unable to evacuate needed to call 911, Moule said.
There were no injuries or hospitalizations as a result of the leak.
Officials lifted the evacuation order around 3:20 p.m. after they capped the gas leak. After they capped the leak, officials said repairs would then take an additional six to eight hours. In the meantime, residents were able to return to their homes and businesses.
Friday, July 19, 2013 @ 06:07 PM gHale
California regulators changed their minds a bit and said Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) should pay at least $300 million in fines in connection with a deadly 2010 gas pipeline blast.
In an amended brief filed in the pipeline case, the commission’s safety division cited the eight people killed and 38 homes destroyed in the blast in the San Francisco Bay area suburb of San Bruno and said there were steps PG&E could have taken to prevent the explosion.
Regulators had originally recommended no fine, calling instead on PG&E to spend $2.25 billion on pipeline safety improvements. In that case, the company would be able to claim a portion of the penalty as a tax deduction.
Under the amended brief, $300 million of that amount would go into the state’s general fund in the form of a fine.
PG&E was not immediately available for comment.
The National Transportation Safety Board unanimously agreed in 2011 that the blast was caused by 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 state Public 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 massive fire.
PG&E has accepted liability for the disaster in numerous public statements but has denied most of state investigators’ allegations that the utility violated safety rules.