CPUC Head Threatens PG&E Takeover Action on Wildfire Safety

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Citing a “failed record in safety,” the president of the state Public Utilities Commission notified PG&E Tuesday that regulators are in the midst of the “fact finding” needed before potentially pursuing a state takeover of the utility over apparent lapses in wildfire prevention efforts.   

President Marybel Batjer told PG&E’s interim CEO in a letter Tuesday that the “fact-finding activities are well underway and are being undertaken expeditiously.” 

She said the agency will consider the findings in deciding whether “enhanced oversight and enforcement process is warranted.” She specifically referred to the six step process -- as defined under the PG&E bankruptcy deal – that could trigger a takeover over safety failures.  

As justification, Batjer cited an apparent “pattern of vegetation and asset

management deficiencies that implicate PG&E’s ability to provide safe, reliable service to customers.” She also cited “a volume and rate of defects in PG&E’s vegetation management that is notably higher than those observed for the other utilities.”

She said regulators are also tracking derogatory reports by the federal monitor that have detailed lapses in the company’s vegetation management and recordkeeping efforts while remaining “intensely focused” on assuring the company keeps its promises under its state mandated wildfire safety plan. 

“In short, CPUC staff and I plan to hold PG&E accountable, in real time to fulfill its safety

responsibilities, independent and parallel to any other regulatory or judicial process,” Batjer said, adding that regulators expect improved safety compliance. She continued with even more severe language, saying: “When PG&E is unable to do this on its own, we have used, and will continue to use, the tools and authority at our disposal to hold PG&E accountable for these responsibilities.”

In a statement, the company said it has “made substantial operational and safety improvements” and “significant progress” in meeting provisions of its state-required mitigation efforts. 

“There are some issues that the CPUC’s Wildfire Safety Division has raised and we are working to address those concerns” the company said. “We continue to meet with [the wildfire safety division] frequently to review these matters in a constructive and collaborative basis.”

“We recognize the issues that have been raised and we are listening to the feedback and taking it seriously,” the company said in its statement. “We agree that, when it comes to safety, there is always more that can be done.”

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