PG&E says it's fixed many major safety risks on lines, poles

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. officials said Wednesday its workers discovered more than 1,000 high-priority safety risks on its transmission lines and distribution poles over several months of inspections and almost all of them have been fixed.

Some of the transmission line issues mirrored those on a line that state fire officials have blamed for starting the November wildfire that killed 85 people and nearly destroyed the town of Paradise, said Sumeet Singh, vice president of the utility's Community Wildfire Safety Program.

"The number of safety risks found through these inspections is unacceptable," Singh said in a call with reporters. "When it comes to safety our work is not done."

Of the roughly 100 high-risk problems found on transmission lines, about 15 to 20 percent were on the line blamed for sparking the November fire, Singh said. The utility has permanently retired the 56-mile line.

About 1,000 of the high-risk problems were found on distribution poles, with 97 percent fixed. The utility identified another 100 high priority issues on its substations and said all have been fixed.

PG&E has been inspecting its equipment in high-risk wildfire areas as part of a wildfire mitigation plan it was required to submit to state regulators. The utility has been blamed for sparking some of California's most destructive wildfires in recent years, and it filed for bankruptcy in January as it faced potentially tens of billions of dollars in liability.

Wildfire victims, state regulators, lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom have blasted the utility for its poor safety record. In addition to its equipment sparking wildfires, PG&E was criminally prosecuted in 2010 for a gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people.

"PG&E has not been a good player," Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes said Tuesday during a discussion on California wildfires.

Singh said the utility has drastically stepped up its equipment inspections and made them more rigorous. During a four-month period this year, the utility inspected 700,000 distribution poles, more than triple what it previously inspected in the same time frame.

PG&E's inspections also revealed significant problems with a transmission line running through Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Ten of the 11 towers on the transmission line need to be completely replaced, Singh said.

In total, the utility plans to spend more than $2.3 billion on inspections, vegetation management and other wildfire mitigation efforts, he said. The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates utilities, will ultimately decide if those costs can be passed on to PG&E's customers.