While scrambling in recent months to try to avoid setting off another deadly wildfire, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. found nearly 10,000 problems with its power equipment — including some that needed immediate action to be made safe, the utility said Monday.
Thousands of PG&E electrical parts were broken, damaged, burned or corroded, according to documents the embattled company posted on its website Monday. PG&E unearthed the problems between November and the end of May while inspecting about 750,000 power towers, poles, and substations in or near high-fire threat areas.
Common issues included structural support equipment that was “no good” or out of standard, poles that had become decayed or rotten and various parts that were broken or damaged. PG&E said it has already fixed almost everything that posed the greatest risk.
“Throughout the inspection process, PG&E has been addressing and repairing conditions that pose an immediate safety risk, while completing other high-priority repairs on an accelerated basis,” the company said in a statement. Lower-priority problems will be repaired “as part of PG&E’s work execution plan,” the company said.
PG&E has sought to ramp up its inspection work as part of a larger effort to prevent its power lines from being responsible for any more deadly wildfires like the ones that killed dozens and destroyed thousands of homes in 2017 and 2018. The utility and its parent company PG&E Corp. are in bankruptcy protection because of their liabilities from wildfires, including November’s Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive blaze of its kind in state history.
When crews inspect PG&E lines, they assign each problem they find a tag indicating the urgency and severity of the issue. About 1,000 problems were assigned the most urgent tag, and all of them have been addressed or are actively being worked on, the company said.
The company listed the results of its power line inspections by city and county. Sonoma, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties — three of the nine-county Bay Area’s largest by acreage — had the most powerline problems, and the vast majority of them were assigned the lower-priority “B” tag, meaning the issue needs to resolved within three months.
Of the 9,671 problems listed in the inspection data PG&E released on Monday, 42.7% cannot be repaired and must be replaced. Of those that need to be replaced, 16.6% are in the Bay Area.
Among the other problems PG&E revealed were:
• 2,511 incidents of broken or damaged equipment
• 855 pieces of equipment decayed or rotten, most of which needed replacing
• 36 incidents of corrosion, including one in San Francisco (site not specified)
• 109 incidents of leaking, mostly transformers
• 21 nests to be removed
• 31 instances of woodpecker damage
• 20 incidents of contamination, mostly in Santa Cruz. These can be cleaned or washed, PG&E says. The utility didn’t say what the sites were contaminated with.
PG&E previously said that, as result of its equipment inspections this year, the company decided to replace 10 out of 11 towers along a stretch of a major Marin County power line in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
It was not immediately clear, based on the documents PG&E posted, what were the exact issues with those towers. But a company spokesman said they suffered from “noticeable material loss and ground erosion.”
Beyond the enhanced power line inspections, PG&E is also stepping up its tree-trimming and installing high-definition cameras and weather stations to help prevent and monitor for wildfires, among other efforts.
All of the work is included in a recent fire-prevention plan PG&E — like other investor-owned electric companies — was required to submit to state utility regulators. They signed off on PG&E’s plan in May, and U.S. District Judge William Alsup made PG&E’s compliance with the document part of the terms of its probation arising from the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.
Alsup has also taken note of a recent Wall Street Journal article that said the company knew parts of its electric system were aging and posed a safety risk, even before the Camp Fire. He gave PG&E until July 31 to respond to each paragraph.