Mandatory order

Requirement comes in the wake of ‘exhaustive’ independent probe related to San Bruno explosion

Days before a Millbrae-based attorney was among the first to sue PG&E for the destruction brought by the Camp Fire, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered the energy giant to make a slew of changes to its safety protocol based on a years-long investigation.

At a November 29 hearing in San Francisco, the utility commission could barely get business underway after angry protestors filled its chambers, loudly chanting, “This meeting cannot continue until PG&E admits its crimes!”

Once the meeting did start, a line of people slammed PG&E’s track record during public comment. Some questioned why the possibility of criminal charges over the Tubbs Fire and Camp Fire hadn’t been raised, especially since the owners of the Ghost Ship, the Oakland warehouse where 36 died in a 2016 blaze, face prison time. Others railed against PG&E CEO Geisha Williams getting her pay doubled to $8.5 million the same year her corporation was implicated in the wine country wildfires.

Once utility commissioners had a chance to speak, they had some criticisms of their own for PG&E. CPUC had enlisted North Star Consulting Group to conduct a years-long investigation into PG&E’s safety practices in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, which killed eight people. That probe was recently completed.

“We learned a lot from the consultant,” said Commissioner Cliff Rechtschaffen. “It’s an exhaustive report.”

North Star recommended that the commission order PG&E to make some 61 safety reforms.

“It found that PG&E appears not to have a clear vision for its safety programs and instead pursues many programs without clear thinking as to how they fit together,” Commissioner Michael Picker noted. “So, this has been deeply troubling to me and it keeps me awake at night trying to understand how this is going to affect customers and the landscapes where PG&E is active.”

CPUC voted unanimously to order PG&E to make the reforms. Picker told the public that, while North Star’s findings are not directly linked to the recent fires, the commission would open “a new proceeding” on that matter.

Meanwhile, attorney Dario de Ghetaldi filed a lawsuit December 6 in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of a number of Camp Fire survivors, citing circumstantial evidence he says points to PG&E being responsible for the deadly blaze.