L.A. Times spanks PG&E over safety

September 19, 2010

One has to wonder how much advertising PG&E will be doing in the future with the Los Angeles Times after business columnist Michael Hiltzik delivered a scathing attack on the California corporation in Sunday’s paper. [LA Times]

“It’s not premature to examine PG&E’s management culture and connect the dots to the San Bruno disaster,” Hiltzik argues. “There’s ample evidence that the company places customer and community service low among its priorities, and corporate responsibility even lower.

“PG&E is, however, very good at producing elegant four-color paeans to its ‘commitment’ to its communities and customers. If gloss and elegance were all it takes, PG&E would be one of the most admired corporations in California, instead of one of the most detested.”

Hiltzik places the blame squarely on PG&E chief executive Peter Darbee, who earned $30 million in salary during the last three years. The columnist suggests that Darbee made a major mistake in mounting last spring’s failed Proposition 16 campaign.

“Darbee seems to consider the sum he spent on Proposition 16 to be trivial, and the infection it caused the political process transitory. He may be about to learn that the damage it caused to PG&E’s credibility as a public-spirited corporation was profound and lasting.” Hiltzik wonders whether Darbee is really the right man to lead PG&E.

The columnist also believes the energy wasted on Proposition 16 could have been better used on safety issues–especially those involving natural gas lines in San Francisco.

“PG&E seems to be a lot more casual about performing urgent maintenance on its system than it was about the needs of the initiative campaign.

“During the campaign season, PG&E let few fortnights pass without replenishing its war chest, adding seven-figure sums, or more, eight times from January through May.

“Has it shown as much solicitude for a section of natural gas pipeline in South San Francisco it has ranked among its “top 100 highest risk line sections”? The 1.42-mile section is about a mile and a half from the blast site. The utility said in a public filing that “the risk of a failure at this location is unacceptably high.”

“Yet PG&E has had the devil’s own time coming up with the $5 million needed to repair the line, even though it identified the line as high risk in 2007 and got approval from the PUC to replace it at ratepayers’ expense in 2009. Now it’s planning to get around to the job in 2013.”

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The old saying goes the blind leading the blind. Nah. It should be (in PG&E’s case) the stupid, leading the stupid. First piss off the people of California with their ill fated proposition and then follow it up with this idiocy. Amazing.

I would love to see public disclosure on what PG&E has said about the rest of the condition of their gas lines.