Jerry Hill Speaks Against PG&E Improvement Plan

Jerry Hill spoke outside of CPUC headquarters Monday.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill was in San Francisco Monday to protest what he said is an attempt by PG&E to get ratepayers to foot the bill for modernizing the utility's gas transmission system in Northern California.

Hill spoke outside the California Public Utility Commission's headquarters and called on the agency to reject PG&E's proposed Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan, which calls for a $2.2-billion investment in stringent improvements to PG&E's gas transmission infrastructure.

Hill said that the transmission system should have been constructed safely and rigorously tested from the beginning, and that the costs associated with any future improvements should be charged to PG&E's shareholders and not passed on to consumers.

"We've already paid top dollar for a good, sound, safe transmission system, and what we got was a lemon," Hill said.

PG&E spokeswoman Brittany Chord said that the utility has already begun a shareholder-funded, system-wide effort to hydro-test its pipelines, search for leaks, remove aging pipes and replace manual valves with automatic valves that shut off gas supply in the event of an emergency.

When a pipeline exploded in San Bruno on Sept. 9, 2010, gas fed a massive fire for nearly an hour and a half before the supply could be manually shut off. Eight people died in the disaster, and dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed.

The testing and infrastructure improvements that have been under way since the San Bruno explosion have been paid for by PG&E's shareholders, Chord said.

"We're in the midst of a huge effort to modernize our pipelines," Chord said. "Any work that has been done to meet existing regulations has been paid for by shareholders."

If the CPUC approves PG&E's Pipeline Safety Improvement Plan, the cost of future work on the transmission system would be shared by ratepayers as well as shareholders. The cost to ratepayers would work out to about a $2 increase on an average monthly utility bill, Chord said. The CPUC is expected to make a preliminary ruling on PG&E's plan some time in the coming weeks.

--Bay City News

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