PG&E pipeline safety payments could mean rate increase for customers

PG&E says gas bills could go up beginning next year to help pay for it’s pipeline safety program.

Ever since the deadly PG&E gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno eight years ago, the utility company says it’s been stepping up its safety program with renewed urgency.

The utility says that’s why it is asking state regulators to approve a proposed rate hike in their customers gas bills.

“That rate case will really help provide funding for PG&E to invest in its infrastructure and continue to supply safe and reliable gas service to its customers,” said Andrea Menniti a PG&E spokeswoman.

The gas bills for typical customers would increase by a little more than a dollar a month. That’s a two percent hike.

California Public Utilities Commission regulates the utility and held one of a series of hearings about the proposed rate hikes Wednesday.

Few people attended.

The PG&E watchdog organization, TURN (The Utility Reform Network), opposes the hike. TURN is skeptical all the money will actually go towards safety.

“The rates are high and getting higher. And its on top of other rate increases. And that is what is critical to people. They have to make the choices of what can they pay for this month,” said Ana Montes with TURN.

“We have lots of tools that can help them manage their accounts during the winter and summer months,” Menniti said.

PG&E says the additional money will help pay for more automated shutoff valves, pipeline strength testing and increasing the use of advanced robotics called “PIGS” to inspect the insides of pipelines.

The news rate would be in effect for three years. The state PUC commissioners are expected to decide whether or not to approve the hikes by the end of the year.