Who Should Pay For PG&E To Play Catch-Up?

PG&E upgrades to increase rates

PG&E Corp. said customers will pay $768.7 million to upgrade the company’s natural gas pipeline network in wake of the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion last year.

In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission Friday, the San Francisco-based utility giant said it will spend a total of $2.2 billion over the next four years to replace 186 miles of its gas pipelines and inspect and strength-test nearly 1,000 miles.

"This plan represents a clear break with the way PG&E and other gas utilities once approached pipeline safety," said Nick Stavropoulos, the company’s executive vice president of gas operations.

PG&E said the upgrades will increase monthly rates for the typical residential customer by about $1.93 per starting next year. Typical small business customers will see their monthly bills rise by about $14.95, the company said.

The Utility Reform Network, the San Francisco-based consumer advocacy group, says customers will bear a disproportionally high amount of the costs.

“In TURN’s view, shareholders need to pick up more of the tab,” said spokeswoman Mindy Spatt.

The Sept. 9, 2010, San Bruno blast killed eight people and leveled dozens of homes in the South San Francisco neighborhood.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the investigation and will hold a hearing on Tuesday on the probable cause of the disaster and its proposed safety recommendations.

Shares of PG&E closed at $41.09 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, a decline of 37 cents.