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PG&E: 239 Calif. pipelines at risk of failure

Associated Press Modified: July 2, 2012 at 9:15 pm •  Published: July 2, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Monday proposed raising utility customers' bills by as much as $12 per month to upgrade its gas and electricity systems, as more questions surfaced about the company's oversight of its gas lines in the wake of the deadly San Bruno explosion.

The company sent its proposal to raise rates by more than $2 billion over three years to California regulators, saying the extra funds were necessary to accomplish a major overhaul of its gas distribution and electrical systems. Much of the money would go to replace older gas lines, install leak detection systems, connect new residential and business customers, replace cables and make other upgrades, the utility said.

The utility has come under fire for poor management of its aging network of gas pipelines since the 2010 San Bruno explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in the San Francisco suburb.

The company's proposal is just the first step in the process used to set natural gas and electricity rates for utility customers, and it will need to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. PG&E seeks $1.25 billion in 2014, $500 million in 2015 and $500 million in 2016.

Tom Bottorff, senior vice president of regulatory relations for the San Francisco company, said in an interview Monday the improvements are necessary to "make our system one of the safest in the nation."

According to a March review by the utility, more than 200 of its high-pressure transmission pipelines still have sections riddled with vulnerable seam welds, the exact failure that federal investigators said prompted the San Bruno explosion.

The 239 problematic pipeline segments span a total of 47 miles throughout Northern and Central California and are at risk of failure because of their age or the company's previous practice of pressurizing the lines above legal limits, according to the filing.

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