TURN Wants PG&E to Pay for Its own Mistakes

Watchdog appeals PUC decision to raise PG&E natural gas rates

A consumer watchdog group filed an appeal Monday that seeks to reverse a state commission’s decision in December that will let Pacific Gas & Electric raise rates to help finance the company’s upgrades of its natural gas system.

The improvements are being made in the wake of the lethal natural gas explosion in September 2010 that killed eight and demolished part of a San Bruno neighborhood.

“We have said over and over again that the PUC cannot require customers to pay for PG&E’s mistakes,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for Toward Utility Rate Normalization, or TURN, which filed the appeal with the state Public Utilities Commission.

On Dec. 20, the PUC agreed to a $299 million rate increase for PG&E to upgrade its vast network of natural gas pipelines.

Certain aspects of the PUC’s ruling, TURN claimed, amounted to the state commission giving PG&E a free pass.

“Customers should not be bailing out PG&E,” Thomas Long, TURN’s legal director, said in a prepared release. “The commission needs to stand up to PG&E, and stand up for customers who were put in harm’s way by PG&E’s mismanagement.”

San Francisco-based PG&E said it had no specific comments about the appeal. The utility will go through the appropriate channels with the PUC to respond, said Brittany Chord, a spokeswoman for PG&E.

“Our focus has been and will continue to be the safety of our system,” Chord said.

“We have not stopped making improvements to our system following the accident.”

Before the late-December decision, PG&E had spent roughly $1.5 billion in upgrades, repairs, valve automation and pipe replacements, according to the company.

“We did not wait for a decision from the PUC as to whether our plan would be accepted,” Chord said.

Average rates for PG&E residential customers with natural gas service will go up about $1.36 a month by the end of 2014 due to the PUC’s decision on Dec. 20.

That will raise the average bill of a residential customer with natural gas service by 88 cents a month during 2013 and by an additional 48 cents in 2014, Chord said.

Of central concern to TURN was PG&E’s failure to keep proper records about the condition, repairs and maintenance on its pipelines.

As a result, it isn’t fully clear just how much work PG&E truly should be compensated for.

“PG&E is shooting in the dark as to just what should be replaced,” Spatt said.