Two Bay Area lawmakers want to use revenue raised from fines leveled against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. – in connection with 2010’s San Bruno gas line explosion – to pay for upgrades to the utility’s transmission system, saying the move will save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Under current state law, any fine assessed by the California Public Utilities Commission goes to the state’s general spending account, which pays for schools, prisons and other state programs.
Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would dedicate money raised from the explosion fines to pipeline upgrades. The measure is co-authored by San Francisco Democratic Sen. Mark Leno.
Hill said state regulators are expected to level at least $200 million – and probably far more – in penalties against the utility in connection with the deadly explosion. If that money is used for pipeline replacement instead of general state spending, he said, ratepayers would save at least $660 million.
“PG&E should not be allowed to profit from what has occurred,” Hill said. “The way it works now … PG&E will borrow the money for capital improvement costs and ratepayers will have to pay the principal back as well as interest.”
But the PUC also has authorized PG&E to grant its shareholders an 11.35 percent profit on its capital improvement projects – money that gets taxed. All these costs are to be paid for by ratepayers unless the bill passes.
Hill said that when you add up all of the additional costs, every dollar of penalty money spent on pipeline upgrades will save ratepayers $3 to $4.
“To me, those ratepayers within the PG&E service area are ones who have suffered the most … by living with an unsafe pipeline system,” he said. “I feel that those are the ratepayers who should benefit, or at least be made whole, from the penalties related to San Bruno.”
The PUC has not yet assessed fines against PG&E in connection with the San Bruno incident, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. But the utility’s managers set aside $200 million last year, saying they expect penalties could top that amount when three separate state investigations are complete.
Hill said PG&E is expected to spend more than $5 billion, including interest, over the next 50 years upgrading its transmission system to comply with federal recommendations.
Brian Swanson, a PG&E spokesman, said the utility has not taken a position on the bill but supports the concept.