Post-blackout inspections showed 218 cases of busted equipment that could have made this autumn’s wildfires a lot worse.
Thanksgiving week is generally a rather slow news week, but not for the bankrupt and beleaguered PG&E. On Wednesday, a bankruptcy judge shot down PG&E’s request to lop billions of dollars off its liabilities in 2017 and 2018 wildfires, and the company’s stock continued to plummet. But there are separate court proceedings underway about the utility’s forced blackouts in both early October and late October. On that front, the Chronicle reports that in a Friday court filing, PG&E admitted they’d found 218 cases of damaged equipment that all could have caused additional sparks and wildfire risk.
This is particularly significant in light of the revelation that a PG&E tower “malfunctioned” at the very time and spot that the Kincade fire started. The cause of that fire is still under investigation, and the report of these 218 busted parts comes from an inventory of equipment that PG&E performed before turning shut-off power lines back on.
In a statement to KTLA, PG&E said that “In 2019, there have been no fatalities and no structures destroyed in any wildfire that may have been caused by PG&E distribution lines.” That’s very artful wording — for one, it ignores PG&E’s delayed maintenance that appears to have caused the 2018 Camp Fire. On top of that, it gives PG&E the benefit of the doubt that all of the fires whose causes are still under investigation were definitely not caused by the utility.
This case goes all the way back to the 2010 San Bruno explosion, for which we know that a PG&E pipeline was responsible, and the company is still on probation for it. These hearings are probationary updates now required of PG&E. (The bankruptcy case is a separate legal proceeding.)
In a sense, you might say the system worked here; PG&E shut off the power lines, there was indeed faulty equipment, and post-shutoff investigations identified future possible risks. But the faulty equipment problem has been an ongoing thing with this company, as has been delaying maintenance while lavishly indulging its executives. And in all likelihood, if the company were not on probation right now, we probably would never would have been informed that the company has hundreds of busted parts and jumpers currently in use all over the state.
Image: Presidio of Monterey: DLIFLC & USAG via Flickr