Over 1,000 Critical Problems in High Fire Risk Zones Were Missed From Poor Inspections and Neglect

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. failed to properly inspect and maintain the high-voltage power line that started the Camp Fire. Pacific Gas and Electric did not conduct a detailed climbing inspection of the aging tower located at the fire’s origin point since at least 2001. This was the period of seventeen years preceding the November 8, 2018 Camp Fire. The November 8, 2018 Camp Fire killed 85 people and caused $30 billion in property damage.

* the equipment problems are obvious if there is close up visual inspections. This is shown below
* the utility can easily afford to properly inspect all lines and equipment.
* there have been major equipment problems for over 20 years which should have triggered the complete reviews that were finally made in 2018 and 2019.
* missing 11,000 problems in high fire risk zones obviously means that prior routine and detailed inspections were a failure and new procedures and rules are needed
* It is affordable to properly inspect and maintain equipment. If $10+ billion is needed to urgently fix known problems, then $2.4 billion per year of spending on solar and wind power buildout needs to be deferred. How can PG and E have $2.2 billion in net income each year on $19 billion in revenue while allowing its equipment to stay dangerous for another 10 years or more?
* PG&E spent $2.4 billion in 2018 to uphold a legislated mandate to buy renewable power. $1.5 billion was spent in 2017 on maintenance expenses to update the gas infrastructure. The company claims $27 billion on electric transmission and distribution, which includes replacing or upgrading equipment like towers, poles, and wires, and on vegetation management work. An average of $2.7 billion per year to cut back trees and maintain equipment. The $2.7 billion per year was not enough and/or it was poorly and inefficiently spent.
* Wildfires have helped wiped out gains the state has made in reducing emissions via renewable power.

This article has pictures showing how obvious the damage to critical equipment is and was. PG&E has 24,000 employees. A few hundred inspectors would add 1% to the staffing expense of the company. PG&E could and did afford a series of detailed inspections of equipment. An inspection program completed over months, affordably identified over 11,000 critical and major equipment problems. If each cost an average of $100,000 to fix then it would cost $1.1 billion to fix the 11,000 identified problems in high fire zones. PG&E could forego profits for a year to fix all those problems and could spend 1-2% to stay on top of the proper inspection of the equipment.

Climbing inspections were required according to PG&E owns rules. They would have revealed the worn hook that broke on Nov. 8, 2018 which led to the ignition of a fire that killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings. Timely replacement of the hook could have prevented ignition of the Camp Fire according to the CPUC report (Report is 259 megabytes and over 696 pages).

There are also pictures of what the damage looks like.

This is one of the worn C-hooks. The C-Hooks are critical and the wear is obvious and would have been obvious for many years. After the Camp Fire in December 2018, PG and E had a Wildfire Inspection Safety Program (WISP). This program found 5,000 hazardous conditions at Priority A and Priority B levels. These conditions were all missed by routine and detailed inspections. The WISP inspections were on the Caribou Palermo transmission line. This line is where the fire occurred. Priority A codes were found on 13 of the towers on the Caribou Palermo transmission line. The line has been shut down since December 2018 and permanently decommissioned as of June.

Pictures show how the problems with insulators on the tower were visible from the ground. They were detached.

PG&E has finally inspected some 50,000 transmission towers and structures, 700,000 distribution poles and 222 substations — covering more than 5,500 miles of transmission line and 25,200 miles of distribution line in high fire-threat areas. They finally inspected all aspects of the assets, including cross-arms, insulators and footings, along with critical electrical components and equipment. They inspected electric towers and poles from top to bottom through ground, climbing, helicopter or drone inspections. They identified more than 11,000 problems in high fire zones, about 1,000 of them considered critical. It found 18 critical problems on the Caribou-Palermo line, what it called a “significant number” and brought in an outside consulting firm at the request of state regulators to conduct a records-based review of that line.

This is the kind of damage that should have been seen in a climbing inspection. Flash marks were on the jumper and steel member of the tower.

There is a link on the Wild Fires Info page of the CPUC. Appendix A: SED Camp Fire Investigation Report. In October, 2019, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) had ruled there was insufficient information was then available to include the Camp Fire. SED has now refiled a motion to include the Camp Fire.

PG&E and other utilities are arguing with regulators over what profits they are allowed. Utilities have been asking for about 11-12%. The regulators wanted it at about 8%. Currently allowed profits are about 9.5-10.5%.

California’s government has also mandated 100% renewable energy. This will cost many billions of dollars. Many billions have already been spent. PG&E and the other utilities had requested that they spend less on maintenance to have capital spending to build required renewable power but still maintain their permitted profit margins.

There were 12 violations of agency rules and regulations as part of their Camp Fire findings. PG&E’s own policy require climbing inspection on towers where recurring problems exist. The wear on the arms should have served as a red flag to look for wear in other steel components, like hanger plates, regulators said. Hanger plates are key because they secure the hooks to the tower structure. The report noted that post-fire inspections found 13 dangerously worn hanger plates on the Caribou-Palermo line.

The very next tower was 800 feet from the tower which caused the fire also had an urgent problem. PG&E spotted the urgent safety hazard in September 2018. PG&E failed to prioritize it for immediate repair when it was spotted in September 2018. PG&E gave itself a year to fix the problem.

PG&E Corp. failed to adequately inspect and maintain its transmission lines for years according to a 696-page report by the California Public Utility Commission.

SOURCES – SF chronicle, CPUC, LA Times, NBC Bay Area
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

28 thoughts on “Over 1,000 Critical Problems in High Fire Risk Zones Were Missed From Poor Inspections and Neglect”

  1. Climb?
    California FFS?
    Even in Poland transmission towers are 3d-scanned from helicopters.
    Precise (+- 5mm), Easy, Fast and CHEAP. Range is up to 120 meters.

  2. Lex Luger was the pro wrestler. He was originally in the NWA and became one of the “Four Horsemen” along with Ric Flair. Then moved around between WWF – WCW etc…

  3. and the government agencies responsible for keeping companies in check ignored the problem too, I wonder how much of those profits went into campaign funds?

  4. correction, manslaughter, or do you think their intended goal was to kill people though a series of somewhat predictable events?

  5. but the bonuses will end when the lack of maintenance breaks your source of income.

    It’s very greedy in the short term, but not in the long term at all, in fact it’s the exact opposite in the long term, it’s practically suicidal to skip critical maintenance.
    It would seem that least 51% of the board was stupidly short sighted & greedy, how many of these board members even understand basic business principles of running a company?

    perhaps we should require board members of companies have experience in the industry they’re running, so as to prevent fucking stupid suicidal short term greed.
    Or perhaps ban boards of directors, after all a corporation is technically a “person”, perhaps it really should be a person, one fully accountable person at the head.

  6. Bad in so many ways I hardly know where to start. Just bad.
    A big part of it is that the core of the utility is a large engineering project based on technical and industrial assets. They happen to be of vital importance to people’s daily lives, and by the way, they also carry dangerous amounts of energy that require very high-quality safety precautions.
    Decisions leading to allowing those assets rot, fail and kill people is among the worst type of thinking that I can imagine.
    What else could have caused that except focusing more on money than purpose?
    Astonished, perplexed, angry, sad, and what is this other feeling? Oh yeah, vengeful.
    Yes, it should be determined exactly who made those decisions.

  7. I’ve been in tons of developing countries in one or the other project, and the PG&E debacle has to rank as one of the worst I’ve read about (though never seen – haven’t been to Cali in years). Nigeria, South Africa, Iraq….PGE ranks right up there with these illustrious examples of corruption, power abuse, dereliction of duty, hurting the poor more than the rich.

    In Nigeria, 22% of electricity is powered by backup generators. Lol, Cali is soon in the same league. Go long Generac shares!

  8. I think the members of the PUC should be on the hook for this too, at least financially if not criminally.

  9. That’s criminal neglect and there should be multiple manslaughter charges that the PG&E executives responsible face in addition to the bankruptcy.

  10. There should be some regulatory agency which randomly inspects sections of lines and substations with the power to fine the power company some reasonable % of its gross revenue; then the problem of inspections should solve itself.

  11. shoot the CEO with an arrow every time he says ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ caused these fires…

  12. Monopolies always result in incompetence and corruption! Guaranteed profits make competent management unnecessary!

  13. A couple of Enron monkeys went to jail for their white collar antics. But there were deaths here. What happened to justice? And that old rusted hook? A few of the towers involved in the fire were built in the early 1920s. It looks period correct

  14. Maybe don’t allow PG&E (or other California power companies) to inspect their own equipment?

    I mean, I’m not allowed to rubber stamp permit inspections at my home done only by myself. Why should they be allowed to the equivalent?

  15. This is an application for Drone inspection. The drone can record close ups of the connections much faster than anyone could manually inspect, even from helicopter.

  16. It is interesting, for the company to let its main method of income devolve seems obviously stupid. Somewhere in the meeting’s notes there was a discussion of priorities. I imagine there was a long list of “good” reasons for their decision to let maintenance suffer. Some of those reasons were in the interest of shareholders, some not. I’d like to see what those other reasons were. Because I fail to see how maintenance isn’t a good thing for shareholders too.

  17. Why are people still defending them? Directly responsible for the deaths of 85 people. Someone at least has to go to jail for manslaughter.

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