PG&E Failed To Fix Lines Despite Knowing For Years They Could Cause Fires

camp fire

PG&E told federal regulators that an overhaul of the 98 year-old Caribou-Palermo line was planned in 2013, yet the overhaul had yet to take place when the line failed and caused the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of California, in 2018. The Camp Fire killed at least 85 people (two are still missing) and destroyed 18,804 structures.

PG&E said in a 2017 email about the overhaul, “planned maintenance includes structure replacement, conductor replacement, conductor re-tensioning, installation of new insulators and structure modifications.” PG&E proposed the overhaul again in 2014, 2015 and 2016, delaying the project each time instead of successfully implementing the project.

A 37 year-old woman who has lived her entire life a few miles from Paradise, CA said she saw PG&E workers prepare to do maintenance work or clear vegetation a year or two before the Camp Fire, but never saw them actually do the maintenance work or vegetation clearance, adding, “the same frickin’ tree got marked three times, but was never cleared… it seemed like they did a lot of preparation, but not a lot of follow-through.”

campfire after

PG&E estimated in a 2017 internal presentation that its transmission towers’ mean age is 68 years old, while the average life expectancy of those towers is only 65 years old. This means that the average PG&E transmission tower has already exceeded its life expectancy. PG&E’s oldest steel towers were 108 years old at the time of the presentation.

PG&E acknowledged in the 2017 internal presentation that it needed to take steps to maintain its network of lines to prevent “structure failure resulting [in] conductor on ground causing fire.” Hardware which held a high-voltage line failed in 2018, starting the Camp Fire by sending sparks into the grass.

Memos that PG&E sent to the U.S. Forest Service in 2017 and 2018 show that the planned upgrades to the Caribou-Palermo line included replacing 49 steel towers that were too old and the hardware and aluminum line on 57 towers for age and integrity reasons.

Consulting firm Quanta Technology told PG&E in 2010 that PG&E should have considered climbing some of its very old towers every three to five years to inspect them. PG&E did not implement this suggestion.

PG&E completed inspections on its network after the Camp Fire, determining that thousands of repairs needed to be made and permanently closing the Caribou-Palermo line as a result of the inspections.

In addition to lawsuits stemming from the October 2018 fire in Paradise, CA, PG&E also faces lawsuits related to the October 2017 Wine Country Fires.

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