Coverage: PG&E delayed work now suspected in fires
PG&E Corp. repeatedly delayed a safety overhaul of a century-old high-voltage transmission line that is a prime suspect behind the deadliest wildfire in California history.
Katherine Blunt and Russell Gold of The Wall Street Journal had the news:
The company told federal regulators in 2013 it planned to replace many of the towers, wires and hardware pieces on the line, called the Caribou-Palermo, regulatory filings show. It again proposed the project in 2014, 2015 and 2016—pushing it back each year. The company planned to start work June 2018 and finish late last year. It hasn’t begun.
On Nov. 8, 2018, winds picked up before sunrise near Paradise, Calif., when a wire snapped free from the Caribou-Palermo line, creating an electric arc that scorched the metal tower supporting it. A few minutes later, a PG&E worker spotted a quarter-acre fire under the line, the company has disclosed. Within hours, what became known as the Camp Fire destroyed Paradise and killed 85 people. California fire investigators haven’t yet determined the fire’s cause.
PG&E restarted the line following last November’s fire after spot repairs, it said this week. The line underwent a close inspection in December, with linemen climbing some towers for the first time in years. The inspection uncovered additional problems, the company said, and it has shut down the entire line and has no estimate for when it will resume service.
Thomas Franck of CNBC.com reported that the stock fell as a result of the news:
Shares of PG&E, which had been up prior to the report, last traded down 3.8 percent. The company did not have a comment immediately available when CNBC contacted it for a response. The stock price has plunged since the company announced it plans to pursue Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
PG&E faces at least $30 billion in potential liability costs stemming from wildfires in 2017 and 2018, many allegedly started by the company’s equipment, that have led state officials to doubt the safety of the company’s electric distribution system.
Investigators have already determined PG&E’s equipment liable in at least 17 major wildfires in 2017. State investigators are still examining whether the company’s equipment was partly responsible for November’s Camp Fire, which killed at least 86 people and destroyed about 14,000 homes, making it the state’s deadliest fire.
J.D. Morris of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that PG&E said the planned work was not maintenance-related:
PG&E told The Chronicle that the planned work was not maintenance-related and instead involved compliance with certain regulatory requirements.
A transmission tower along the line in question is located at one of the points in Butte County where state officials say the horrific Camp Fire began Nov. 8, ultimately killing more than 80 people and incinerated more than 18,800 buildings. That tower was not included in the proposed work described by the Journal, according to PG&E.
The cause of the historic blaze is still under investigation, but speculation has centered around PG&E ever since the company reported that a Caribou-Palermo transmission tower malfunctioned near the origin point just before the fire started. PG&E’s financial condition rapidly deteriorated in the wake of the fire, culminating with the company’s filing for bankruptcy protection last month where it cited potential liabilities from 2017 and 2018 wildfires that could exceed $30 billion.