PG&E Updates

Federal judge demands answers about utility’s role in wildfire

Updating a previous item, California’s primary utility is facing increased scrutiny connected to the “Camp Fire” wildfire that is devastating a large portion of the state.

A federal judge overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation from the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion is demanding answers from the utility about its potential role in the Camp Fire or other major wildfires, the Sacramento Bee reported Monday. EA’s Direct & Current included an item regarding the situation in its November 15 edition, prior to our Thanksgiving break.

In a written order, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco told PG&E to explain whether “reckless operation or maintenance of PG&E power lines” started a wildfire — and whether that might constitute a violation of the terms of the utility’s probation.

An NBC News report November 13 suggested that the company may have known about a recurring issue that potentially triggered the fire. Sources in the report say Pacific Gas & Electric sent notifications to a resident near the town of Paradise, Calif. (which has since been destroyed by the fire) saying it needed to send maintenance teams to the area a day prior to the presumed start of the fire. These teams weren’t sent.

“State officials have not yet determined a cause of the fire. However, an alert sent to state regulators and radio transmissions reviewed by Bay Area News Group suggest that a transmission line malfunction might have caused sparks that set off the blaze,” NBC News’ Erik Sherman wrote.

If officials conclude that sparks from PG&E equipment were the cause, the company could face massive lawsuits. In addition to the loss of life and missing persons, as of yesterday the fire had burned 117,000 acres, destroyed 6,453 residences and 260 commercial buildings, and threatened another 15,500, according to state authorities.

PG&E, while being one of the largest and most depended-on utilities in the country, also has a difficult recent history containing scandal, controversy, and distrust.

It also worked hard publicly last summer to and this to create and implement a program and center in San Francisco designed to predict, contain, and combat wildfires.

PG&E was found guilty in federal court of obstruction of justice and other charges in connection with the 2010 San Bruno disaster, which killed eight people and injured 58 others. At sentencing in January 2017, the utility was placed on five years’ probation, fined $3 million and ordered to perform thousands of hours of community service.

The probation sentence included a prohibition against committing further crimes.

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