PG&E to spend $1.2B addressing safety concerns 

PG&E said it needs to invest in repairing “aging infrastructure” that currently serves customers. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • PG&E said it needs to invest in repairing “aging infrastructure” that currently serves customers.

PG&E announced a five-year plan that will nearly double previous investments in its utility network in The City. The $1.2 billion is slated to go toward safety enhancements and making sure the system can handle expected growth here.

Tony Earley, the utility’s president and CEO, and Mayor Ed Lee announced the improvements to the electrical and natural-gas systems during a Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday.

San Francisco’s aging utility infrastructure includes underground cables that have malfunctioned and caused outages, and miles of cast-iron natural-gas pipelines that are vulnerable during any type of ground movement.

“We know we need to invest in this aging infrastructure,” Earley said.

The initiative comes after what Earley called “rock bottom” for the utility: the natural-gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes.

“To the extent we’re accelerating investment in infrastructure, it is a lesson learned from San Bruno,” said Earley, who took over at PG&E after the San Bruno incident.

Gabriel Metcalf of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, who moderated the talk with Lee and Earley, said infrastructure is the type of thing that is taken for granted until a disaster happens.

Earley said of investment: “It’s like waiting till your roof breaks open and floods your house to fix your roof. You’ve got to start early on.”

Aside from pumping more funds into projects, a large part of the plan is better project coordination with The City and being less reactionary, Earley said.

“We were kind of doing projects in the past where we knew things were getting old, but we weren’t coordinating as well as we thought we could have with The City,” Earley said. “I think now we have this comprehensive plan that takes into account safety issues, growth issues, the ability to respond to natural disasters.”

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, who oversees The City’s infrastructure review safety panel, said the upgrades will make San Franciscans, first responders and visitors safer.

The five-year plan is nearly double the investment from the past five years, which totaled about $750 million, said PG&E spokesman Joe Molica.

PG&E projects in next five years

  • Embarcadero-Potrero electricity transmission line: New 3.5-mile line, 2.5 miles of which will be under the Bay, will be the third transmission line inside The City, enhancing the resiliency of the system
  • Embarcadero, Mission substations: The facilities will be upgraded to allow them to serve more customers more reliably; exteriors also will be made over
  • Electrical distribution lines: Smaller lines and switches will be upgraded to help isolate problems and shorten duration of power outages
  • Streetlights: $25 million will be spent to replace 1,300 streetlights with newer, more reliable technology
  • Gas lines: The remaining 26 miles of cast-iron natural-gas lines will be replaced by end of 2015

Source: PG&E

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