San Bruno Fire: PG&E Twice Billed Ratepayers to Replace Pipe Near Blast, Never Did Work

Fire 01.jpg
Wiggs
Was this disaster really necessary?
According to documents released by the San Francisco consumer watchdog The Utility Reform Network (TURN), PG&E received $5 million to replace a "high risk" section of piping not far from last week's San Bruno blast zone -- but didn't do the job as scheduled in 2009, and received $5 million more to do it by 2013.

PG&E initially received approval in 2007 from the California Public Utilities Commission to replace 1.42 miles along the high-risk section, located several miles north of the blast zone. That work still hasn't been done -- though it has been paid for, twice, after PG&E was this year again allowed to hike rates to fund the job. 

"What this means is that it's common practice at PG&E to request rate hikes from the PUC in order to do necessary repairs that are essential to customer safety, and then essentially not do the repairs," said Mindy Spatt, TURN's spokeswoman. "It shows a pattern of disregard for customer safety."

Twice deferring a job on a section of piping it declared high-risk  -- and double-billing the ratepayers to boot -- certainly doesn't make anyone want to dash off a paean to PG&E. But if the company hadn't done the aforementioned, would Thursday's blast and fire several miles south have been averted?

The answer: Who knows?

"We're not at all saying this wouldn't have happened if the work had been done," says Spatt. "However, if they'd done this work, maybe they'd have been aware of problems elsewhere. ... But they are not putting customer safety first, which is what they should be doing. This raises questions not only about whether this could have been avoided, but, going forward, what assurances can we get that other pipeline maintenance hasn't been deferred?" 

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