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