PG&E shows off future San Ramon complex it hopes can prevent another natural gas disaster
PG&E provided a peek at its future gas control nerve center Tuesday, a facility the utility hopes will help it forestall disasters such as the deadly San Bruno explosion, cope with natural gas emergencies and even predict problems before they become catastrophes.
The San Ramon facility will include gas dispatch, gas transmission control and gas distribution, said Mel Christopher, senior director of the company’s gas system operations, and it will operate around the clock.
“We can make better decisions and respond more quickly and efficiently,” Christopher said. “We can begin to prevent events from happening.”
PG&E said the new operations will improve its chances of preventing a repeat of the 2010 San Bruno natural gas explosion. That disaster killed eight.
“You can never guarantee 100 percent,” said Nick Stavropoulos, executive vice president of PG&E’s gas operations. “These things are all designed to prevent a San Bruno event from happening.”
Despite the confidence expressed by PG&E, some skeptics suggested the problems with the utility go well beyond a new gas control center.
“The concern is that PG&E puts profits before people,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based The Utility Reform Network. “It’s not about where you do it. It’s about what you do.”
Spatt pointed to investigations into the San Bruno explosion that suggested PG&E suffered a lax attitude about safety issues.
“We are laser-focused on enhancing the overall safety of our system,” said Jesus Soto Jr., senior vice president of transmission operations. “Our level of preparedness is dramatically different than it was before San Bruno.”
San Francisco-based PG&E will have 1,600 employees in the Bishop Ranch office park by mid-2013 when the new gas control center and other offices are operating in the San Ramon complex.
The gas operations are being shifted from existing sites in San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Concord and Fresno, PG&E said.
The utility reached two lease agreements with the owners of Bishop Ranch, totaling 400,000 square feet, to accommodate the new operations.