Posts Tagged ‘PG&E’
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.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 @ 05:07 PM gHale
Temperature shock in a 36-inch steam pipe shut down one coal plants July 1 and Portland General Electric (PGE) doesn’t know when the Boardman, OR, facility will be back. In addition, another plant partially owned by PGE shut down the same day following another incident.
PGE said a temperature shock in a 36-inch steam pipe at its coal plant in Boardman knocked the pipe out of its hangars. The “thermal water hammer,” caused by hot steam coming into contact with cooler liquids and gases, could leave the plant offline for at least a month, the utility said.
PGE operates Boardman and takes 65 percent of its 575 megawatt output, enough electricity to supply 250,000 customers.
PGE also owns 20 percent of two units at the Colstrip power plant in Montana, which is the second largest coal plant west of the Mississippi. An unspecified incident at one of the two units on the same day of the Boardman outage knocked out that unit. PacifiCorp also owns 10 percent of the output of the same unit.
The operator of the plant, PPL Montana, is in the process of working on an assessment.
Corson said no one was hurt in Boardman and no steam released. There are no cost estimates yet, but the company says it will likely be offline for at least a month for repairs. Meanwhile, from a reliability and price standpoint, Corson said PGE had been able to find good replacements for the output of both units.
“The market had been pretty liquid, so we’ve been able to respond well to having the plant offline,” he said.
The last unplanned outage at Boardman was in 2006, when cracks in a new turbine brought the plant down for months and led to a long fight over whether ratepayers or shareholders should pay for it.
“That happened in very different market environment, where gas costs were different,” Corson said. “We’re fortunate that gas costs are much lower today.
Monday, June 3, 2013 @ 03:06 PM gHale
A new battery could help make the Northwest’s and the nation’s electric system smarter and more efficient.
Portland General Electric (PGE) showed off its 5-megawatt, lithium-ion energy storage system with the public at the utility’s Salem Smart Power Center in South Salem, OR. The energy storage facility is part of PGE’s contribution to the Battelle-led Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project.
U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) funds paid for half of PGE’s $23 million portion of the regional project. The regional demonstration is a five-year, $178-million project launched in 2010.
“The Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project is a successful public-private partnership involving 17 organizations across five Northwest states,” said Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for DoE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, which oversees regional smart grid demonstration projects.
“It is a highly innovative project demonstrating transactive energy management, which is a promising, cost-effective way to integrate variable renewable energy, energy storage and demand response at scale,” she said. “The celebration of the Salem Smart Power Center makes it clear that Oregon is helping to lead the way on energy storage commercialization and grid modernization.”
The battery is part of a highly reliable, localized power zone called a microgrid that will enable about 500 southeast Salem customers to tap into a power reserve during electricity disruptions such as blackouts. The battery and microgrid are examples of the technologies and methods in development through the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project.
The energy storage system will respond to regional grid conditions with the help of a key aspect of the demonstration called transactive control. Transactive control comes from technology from DoE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The technology helps power producers and users decide how much of the area’s power will end up consumed, when and where. This occurs when producers and users automatically respond to signals representing future power costs and planned energy consumption. The cost signals originate at Battelle’s Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center in Richland, WA. They update every five minutes and send off to the project’s participating utilities, including PGE.
The automated signals allow project participants to make local decisions on how their piece of the smart grid project can support local and regional grid needs. Participants are now gathering data to measure how the signal can help deliver electricity more effectively, help better integrate wind power onto the power grid and more. The Salem battery will use the signal to coordinate its charge and discharge cycles with the power grid’s supply and demand.
“Two-way information exchange in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project allows grid operators to make the existing electric grid more efficient, while also exploring how using other technologies such as PGE’s energy storage system, smart appliances and wind power can bolster the reliability of our system,” said Carl Imhoff, who manages Battelle’s Electricity Infrastructure Market Sector in Richland.
PGE serves 830,000 customers in 52 Oregon cities, and is testing several smart-grid technologies in the Salem area for the demonstration project. Beyond the energy storage system, PGE is working to integrate renewable power sources to the power grid. It is also implementing a demand-response program with residential and commercial customers to help meet peak demand. All these resources will end up optimized with the automated transactive control signal.
“Together with our project partners and customers, we are demonstrating smart grid technologies to help Oregon and the nation learn how to build intelligent energy resources for the future while continuing to deliver long-term value for customers,” said Jim Piro, PGE president and chief executive.
As a primary partner in the project, the Bonneville Power Administration is leading the development of a regional business case for investing in smart grid infrastructure and technologies.
“New, smarter technologies can help us make the most of the region’s renewable resources, improve how we operate the power system and bolster its resilience,” said Elliot Mainzer, BPA’s deputy administrator. “We’re looking closely at the benefits and economics so we can tell Northwest electric utilities and ratepayers which `smart’ investments will provide long-term value.”
BPA is working to support utilities in the project as they unite to address both regional and utility requirements. Communication and collaboration between utilities is key to making this all work, especially considering that five states are involved, with everything from large investor-owned utilities to smaller publicly-owned utilities. They have varying goals, but are working together to enhance the economics, reliability and integration of renewables for the power system. BPA has taken a lead role in assuring the utility perspective ends up addressed as well as the regional perspective so they meet the needs of electricity consumers throughout the Northwest.
As part of the project, Battelle leads a collaborative group that includes the Bonneville Power Administration and 11 Northwest-based utilities:
• Avista Utilities – Spokane, WA
• Benton PUD – Kennewick, WA
• City of Ellensburg – Ellensburg, WA
• Flathead Electric Cooperative – Kalispell, MT
• Idaho Falls Power – Idaho Falls, ID
• Lower Valley Energy – Afton, WY
• Milton-Freewater City Light & Power – Milton-Freewater, OR
• NorthWestern Energy – Butte, MT
• Peninsula Light Company – Gig Harbor, WA
• Portland General Electric – Portland, OR
• University of Washington/Seattle City Light – Seattle, WA
The demonstration project also involves Alstom Grid, IBM/Netezza, 3TIER Inc. and Quality Logic Inc. Washington State University and Central Washington University are also directly involved.
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.
“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.
Monday, March 25, 2013 @ 11:03 AM gHale
Utilities remain on alert at all times because of the potential harm one little cyber attack could cause, but California officials are especially on their toes these days.
The California Public Utilities Commission is now considering rules to bolster cyber-security protections to prevent potentially devastating attacks.
The agency warned utilities were becoming vulnerable to cyber attacks as their networks add smart meters and other computerized gear. Many providers are reluctant to report they suffered an attack because they worry disclosure could expose them to liability.
Experts say a cyber attack against an electric utility could lead to massive power outages that shut down water and transportation, threaten the sick and elderly and cause billions of dollars in damage.
“We will see catastrophic outages,” James Sample, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s (PG&E) chief information security officer, warned state regulators at an energy company forum. “We are dealing with a very intelligent adversary.”
Although PG&E doesn’t believe hackers have caused major problems at the San Francisco-based utility, Sample said, “We’re seeing increased phishing-type attempts,” typically fake emails aimed at stealing information.
Late last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported hackers were infiltrating “oil and natural gas pipelines and electric power organizations at an alarming rate.” The agency said it knew of 198 such “cyber-incidents” just last year.