U.S. District Judge William Alsup oversees Pacific Gas and Electrics probation from the deadly San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in 2010. In a late Tuesday order, Judge Alsup outlined new wildfire safety standards for PG&E and issued orders stopping them from paying dividends to shareholders until all the standards are met.
The proposal defines 2019 goals to inspect lines, clear vegetation, replace power poles and set up weather and camera stations in certain high risk areas. The extent of work is far less than Judge Alsup’s Jan 9th proposal that PG&E inspect and make safe thousands of miles of transmission lines across Northern California, removing any trees and branches that could come into contact with power lines and replacing wooden poles with steel on many old lines. PG&E lawyers balked at the initial proposal saying it would cost over $150 billion to implement by the beginning of 2019 fire season. They also argued that full compliance with existing law was not possible. California law requires utilities to clear vegetation from around electric transmission lines and remove trees or limbs that could fall on them. PG&E had said that may be impossible in some areas due to densely forested, highly dynamic environments.
Wrote Their Own Policy
The new standards are taken directly from PG&E’s own wildfire mitigation plans they were required to submit to the state in February. They represent a fraction of the work proscribed by Judge Alsup’s original proposal which came from fire and environmental experts as the least required to make the electrical grid safe. Under the newly proposed order, PG&E will have to comply with California law (Section 4293 of the Public Resources Code), as well as its own wildfire mitigation plan. The ruling is seen as a reprieve for PG&E, which has been found responsible for 17 wildfires in 2017 and said last week its equipment likely caused the 2018 Camp Fire, the state’s deadliest. Until its wildfire mitigation efforts are complete, PG&E is prevented from issuing dividends to shareholders.