State Audit Shows PG&E Had Repair Job Backlog in Sonoma, Santa Rosa

The state’s last regulatory audit of the PG&E division ravaged by the North Bay firestorm warned the utility that it was late in fixing more than 3,500 known electrical problems in Santa Rosa and Sonoma alone, records reviewed by NBC Bay Area show.

The findings of the California Public Utilities Commission’s PG&E Sonoma Division audit -- performed in September 2015 – point to concerns about PG&E maintenance practices well before the fires that destroyed nearly 5,000 homes and claimed 42 lives. PG&E has filed eight separate regulatory notices of electrical equipment failures in the fires.

In a December 31, 2015 audit letter to the utility, Fayi Daye, a supervising electric safety regulator with the state’s Public Utilities Commission, outlined the violations found in the review of records between 2010 and 2015 and a spot check of the division’s electrical distribution equipment.

Daye noted that the auditors’ review of repair records for the areas that would become hardest hit by the fires -- Santa Rosa and Sonoma -- showed the company was behind schedule on a total of 3,527 separate repair orders.

“Late work orders included overhead and underground facilities,” Daye noted.

The audit also checked PG&E’s maps of electrical distribution lines and found more than 50 pieces of overhead equipment – including pole mounted transformers and lines themselves-- had not been inspected yearly as required under state rules.

Spot checks showed that for one power pole in Santa Rosa, a supporting cable was not properly connected to assure the pole could remain standing. Inspectors also found that communications gear had been spliced onto the line and was dangling 10 feet from the ground.

“PG&E did not notify the communications company of this safety hazard when it last inspected the pole,” Daye’s report noted. In another location in Somona, inspectors found “noticeable slack” on a support strut between poles.

The PUC didn’t issue any fines in the audit. Critics were dismayed by the findings.

“This is particularly alarming because these citations are where the fires happened," said Britt Strottman, and attorney for the counties ravaged by the San Bruno pipeline fire and the massive Butte fire in 2015. She says the audit reflects a troubling pattern. "PG&E has a history of neglecting its infrastructure and this is more evidence of that."

State Sen. Jerry Hill was also troubled by the findings and wants to make sure regulators do a better job of monitoring the utility's repair efforts.

“It was very shocking,” Hill said.

“Thirty five hundred jobs not completed really was a surprise because they are getting the money for these, they are getting the funds to do the work in a timely manner.”

PG&E did not respond to requests for comment or provide its official reply to the audit findings.

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