PG&E seeking to move beyond San Bruno explosion

PG&E Corp. (NYSE: PCG) expects to spend anywhere from $1.5bn to $2bn on issues related to the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion and PG&E is moving quickly to settle with victims of the blast and put the episode behind it, Chairman, CEO and President Tony Earley told reporters May 14.

Earley answered reporters’ questions prior to the company’s shareholders meeting in San Francisco – Earley’s first since joining PG&E in 2011.

The San Bruno blast occurred in September 2010 when one of the company’s natural gas pipelines exploded not far from the San Francisco International Airport. Eight people were killed as a result.

In an unusual move, PG&E has already admitted legal liability and is attempting to swiftly negotiate settlements with victims, Earley said. Earley, previously CEO at DTE Energy (NYSE: DTE) was hired as PG&E’s top executive in 2011 in the aftermath of the explosion.

PG&E’s goal is to resolve most remaining legal and regulatory issues concerning the explosion this year, Earley said. There will be a great deal of court activity regarding San Bruno this summer, he said.

The challenge faced by PG&E and other companies in the coming years involve building new natural gas pipelines while simultaneously upgrading existing gas lines, Earley said.

The company is also seeking to rebuild its relationship with stakeholders – including customers and policy makers, the CEO said. Since Earley became PG&E’s CEO, the company has brought in much new talent, including a new chief nuclear officer to oversee the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, Earley said.

On another issue, Earley lamented the fact that California’s greenhouse gas emissions policy does not currently credit either hydroelectric or nuclear power as “clean” energy. PG&E is the parent of Pacific Gas & Electric. Earley also said that few customers are opting out of the company’s “smart meter” program.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.