Judge pro­poses or­der­ing PG&E to shut off power

Porterville Recorder - - FRONT PAGE - By SUD­HIN THANAWALA

SAN FRAN­CISCO — To pre­vent wild­fires, Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric Co. should re-in­spect its en­tire elec­tric grid and cut off power dur­ing cer­tain wind con­di­tions re­gard­less of the in­con­ve­nience to cus­tomers or loss of profit, a U.S. judge pro­posed Wednes­day.

Judge Wil­liam Al­sup said in a court or­der his goal was to pre­vent the util­ity from caus­ing any wild­fires in the 2019 fire sea­son.

"This will likely mean hav­ing to in­ter­rupt ser­vice dur­ing high-wind events (and pos­si­bly at other times) but that in­con­ve­nience, ir­ri­tat­ing as it will be, will pale by com­par­i­son to the death and de­struc­tion that oth­er­wise might re­sult from Pg&e-in­flicted wild­fires," Al­sup said.

He gave PG&E un­til Jan. 23 to re­spond to his pro­posal. PG&E said it was re­view­ing Al­sup's or­der.

"We are com­mit­ted to com­ply­ing with all rules and reg­u­la­tions that ap­ply to our work, while work­ing to­gether with our state and com­mu­nity part­ners and across all sec­tors and dis­ci­plines to de­velop com­pre­hen­sive, long-term safety so­lu­tions for the fu­ture," the com­pany said.

Al­sup is over­see­ing a crim­i­nal sen­tence against PG&E stem­ming from a deadly ex­plo­sion of one of the util­ity's gas lines in 2010. The blast in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area killed eight peo­ple.

A U.S. judge in 2017 put PG&E on five years of pro­ba­tion fol­low­ing its con­vic­tion on pipeline safety charges. Al­sup asked PG&E in Novem­ber whether any re­quire­ments of the sen­tence might be im­pli­cated if its equip­ment ig­nited a wild­fire. The judge noted that the sen­tence re­quired that PG&E not en­gage in any ad­di­tional crimes.

He also asked the util­ity to ex­plain any role it may have played in a mas­sive wild­fire that de­stroyed the town of Par­adise and killed at least 86 peo­ple.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have not de­ter­mined the cause of the wild­fire that be­gan Nov. 8 but spec­u­la­tion has cen­tered on PG&E, which re­ported an out­age around the time and place the fire ig­nited.

Al­sup noted in Wednes­day's or­der that state fire in­ves­ti­ga­tors have de­ter­mined PG&E caused eigh­teen wild­fires in 2017, twelve of which they re­ferred for pos­si­ble crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.

The judge pro­posed PG&E re­move or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines, poles or equip­ment in high-wind con­di­tions and doc­u­ment its in­spec­tions and work. He ac­cused the util­ity of a "his­tory of fal­si­fi­ca­tion of in­spec­tion re­ports."

He is also con­sid­er­ing or­der­ing the util­ity dur­ing the 2019 wild­fire sea­son to sup­ply elec­tric­ity only to those parts of its elec­tri­cal grid it has de­ter­mined to be safe un­der wind con­di­tions at the time.

PG&E cut power to tens of thou­sands of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia cus­tomers in Oc­to­ber be­cause of high fire dan­ger, prompt­ing com­plaints and de­mands for re­im­burse­ment from some cus­tomers.

PG&E'S credit rat­ing and stock price fell this month fol­low­ing re­ports that it was con­sid­er­ing fil­ing for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion in the face of po­ten­tially crip­pling li­a­bil­ity dam­ages from a spate of wild­fires.

AP FILE PHOTO BY JOHN ANTCZAK In this 2018 photo, util­ity crews re­pair over­head lines along the Pa­cific Coast High­way just west of Mal­ibu, Calif., where the Woolsey Fire burned down from the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains to the wa­ter’s edge at Leo Car­rillo State Beach.

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