Tom Gogola, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
As he sets out to lead the way in rebuilding the North Bay after the October wildfires, Sonoma County developer, newspaper owner and Democratic Party power broker Darius Anderson’s Platinum Advisors is also lobbying on behalf of PG&E’s post-fire interests in Sacramento.
According to the California Secretary of State (see graphic above), Platinum Advisors was hired by the utility on March 28, just as a Senate bill that’s squarely targeted at PG&E’s fire liability was scheduled to make its way through the committee process in the Senate.
Sponsored by a quartet of state senators, including North Bay pols Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire, SB 819 sets out to limit the extent to which electric utilities can pass off fees and fines to ratepayers.
According to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, SB 819 enhances the state’s current ability to regulate rate hikes; California law already gives the state Public Utilities Commission leverage to “fix the rates and charges for every public utility and requires that those rates and charges be just and reasonable.”
The current regulations prohibit gas corporations from “recovering any fine or penalty in any rate approved by the commission,” and SB 819 extends that prohibition to gas and electric corporations such as PG&E, which is based in San Francisco, provides power to some 16 million California residents and is the dominant investor-owned utility in the state.
Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/TheFishingReport/archives/2018/04/17/sonoma-power-broker-darius-anderson-signs-on-as-pgande-lobbyist
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has trimmed or cut down more than 30,000 damaged trees in 13 Northern and Central California counties, nearly completing a post-fire campaign to remove scorched trees that posed a threat to the utility’s power lines.
The effort is 99 percent complete in Sonoma and Napa counties, where contract tree-cutting crews dealt with about 10,500 and 13,400 trees, respectively, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The only work remaining in Sonoma County, where the October wildfires covered 137 square miles, is related to trees near temporary overhead power lines being erected in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park and Hidden Valley neighborhoods, she said.
In Mendocino County, about 4,400 trees were trimmed or felled, with about 130 in Lake County.
Overall, the work is about 96 percent complete, Contreras said, but affected landowners may still ask PG&E to cut down and remove burned wood from their property at no cost.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/local/7909403-181/pge-trims-or-removes-30000
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PG&E aims to cut down up to 25,000 fire-damaged trees in an urgent effort to protect power lines in 13 counties across Northern and Central California, including Sonoma, where last month’s wildfires scorched 137 square miles.
Residents in fire areas may have noticed bright green spray-painted marks at the base of trunks on trees near power lines. They were left by PG&E arborists and foresters who are assessing the trees’ post-fire condition, company representatives said.
Trees marked P1 are deemed dead or dying and designated for immediate removal to prevent damage to power lines, while those marked P2 have secondary priority.
Trees with an FP 1 or 2 mark will be trimmed.
The work is already underway by contract tree-cutting crews along roads and across private property and should be completed by the end of the year, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The utility, which serves about 16 million people from Eureka to Bakersfield, has been faulted in multiple lawsuits alleging poorly maintained power lines were responsible for the series of fires that started Oct. 8. The cause of those fires remains under investigation by the state.
Read more at: PG&E aims to remove 25,000 fire-damaged trees near power lines across service region
Paul Rogers, Lisa M. Krieger and Matthias Gaffni, BAY AREA NEWS GROUP
Investigators are looking at power line failures as a possible cause of the historic fires.
The heavy winds that downed power lines Sunday night at the start of the deadly wildfires raging across Northern California were far from “hurricane strength,” as PG&E has claimed, according to a review of weather station readings.
On Tuesday, the Bay Area News Group reported that Sonoma County emergency dispatchers sent fire crews to at least 10 reports of downed power lines and exploding transformers as the North Bay fires were starting around 9:22 p.m.
In response, PG&E said that “hurricane strength winds in excess of 75 mph in some cases” had damaged their equipment, but they said it was too early to speculate about what started the fires.
However, wind speeds were only about half that level, as the lines started to come down, the weather station records show. At a weather station in north Santa Rosa where the Tubbs fire started, the peak wind gusts at 9:29 p.m. hit 30 mph. An hour later, they were 41 mph.
Similarly, at another weather station east of the city of Napa, on Atlas Peak, where the Atlas fire started, wind gusts at 9:29 p.m. peaked at 32 mph. An hour later they were 30 mph.
Both speeds were substantially under the speed that power lines must be able to withstand winds under state law: at least 56 mph.
Read more at: Fire cause mystery: Winds not ‘hurricane strength’ as PG&E said
Nicholas Iovino, COURTHOUSE NEWS
Pacific Gas and Electric’s operation of dams, tunnels and a 109-year-old power plant on Northern California’s Eel River harms endangered salmon and steelhead, two conservation groups claim in a new lawsuit.
California River Watch and Coast Action Group sued the utility giant in federal court Friday, claiming its management of the Potter Valley Project in Mendocino County threatens endangered Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
“The project water diversions have reduced flows and increased water temperatures in various parts of the Eel River, in addition to altering important environmental cues that, for example, tell fish when to spawn or begin their outmigration,” the 12-page complaint states.
The groups claim the project also creates conditions that are beneficial to the predatory Sacramento pike minnow, which further threatens the endangered fish.
Earlier this year, PG&E filed its intent to renew its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to run the 109-year-old irrigation and hydropower system. Its existing license expires in April 2022.
Read more at: PG&E Project Blamed for Harming Endangered Fish in NorCal River
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The North Bay pioneered a new type of public energy program in California seven years ago that now appears poised to change who buys electricity for homes and businesses across large swaths of the state.The programs, of which Sonoma Clean Power was an early leader, have expanded dramatically over the past several years.
Their growth is leading experts to examine how well the programs are boosting the use of renewable electricity compared to the private utilities that formerly served the same communities.
The growth is also prompting a face-off between the public programs and California’s three biggest private utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric. In the dispute, both sides have suggested their ratepayers are getting a bum deal in how the state has set the rules for this new era. For the public programs, the outcome has high-stakes implications because their customers could end up paying considerably more to offset the growing costs for excess power that the utilities contracted for but no longer need.
The public programs, typically known as Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA, agencies, have grown to control about 5 percent of the state’s electricity market, a new study reports. But both utilities and other experts say that number will increase markedly as other communities join the trend.
“I think everyone who’s watching this thinks that there is going to be very rapid growth in the coming years,” said Matthew Freedman, an attorney in San Francisco with the Utility Reform Network, a ratepayer advocacy group known as TURN. Some utilities, he said, have predicted that half their customers could switch to the public programs within a decade.
Read more at: Sonoma Clean Power, utilities face battle over energy costs | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PG&E is undertaking a campaign to repaint about 6,000 electric transmission towers coated with lead-based paint, including 65 of the tall structures in Sonoma County.
Letters will be sent this week to owners of the 32 properties where the towers are located months ahead of the work that’s expected to begin in the fall, said Nicole Liebelt, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The letters will be followed by phone calls and personal contact by PG&E representatives.
While use of lead paint is still allowed on commercial structures, Liebelt said PG&E is voluntarily undertaking the repainting program — expected to cost $300 million to $400 million — out of concern for pubic health. PG&E no longer uses lead paint on its towers, Liebelt said.
Read more at: PG&E plans to repaint transmission towers coated with lead paint | The Press Democrat
Arthur Dawson, Towns Section, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Hole in the Head is a 70-foot deep pit dug at Bodega Head in the early 1960s. It is a sort of anti-monument, a place to remember something that didn’t happen. In the late 1950s, PG&E drew up plans for power plants up and down the California coast. Though the Bodega Head plant was initially cast as a “steam-electric generating facility,” the company eventually admitted it would be a nuclear plant — one of the largest in the world at the time.
In those days there was no public input on major projects. As ground was broken and a pit excavated in the first stage of construction, public reaction to the reactor was approaching critical mass.
The Association to Preserve Bodega Head and Harbor was formed by an eclectic group of local ranchers, jazz musicians, students, Sierra Club Director David Brower, homemakers and other concerned citizens.
At a meeting in Santa Rosa, a coordinator for the state’s Atomic Energy Development Agency, frustrated by all the public comments, told the group that they should leave the project “to the experts.” This did not sit well with people who felt they needed a nuclear plant like, well, “a hole in the head.”
They began writing letters to officials and organizing creative protest rallies. Gathering at Bodega Head on Memorial Day, 1963, they released 1,500 yellow balloons into the air. Each one carried a note: “This balloon could represent a radioactive molecule of strontium-90 or iodine-131.” The balloons showed up many miles downwind, landing as far away as the East Bay and the Central Valley.
PG&E insisted it would engineer the plant to safely survive a major earthquake. The activists responded by hiring a geologist to assess the site.
Read more at: Bodega Bay’s Hole in the Head has a rich history | The Press Democrat
Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PG&E has been ordered to pay $120,000 to settle claims that it allowed oil from an underground transformer to contaminate a Santa Rosa creek, prosecutors said Thursday.
A complaint filed in Sonoma County Superior Court alleges the spill into Paulin Creek happened during intense storms in February 2015.Crews were repairing a failed transformer at Sleepy Hollow Drive when oil leaked into a storm drain and flowed into the creek, prosecutors alleged.
PG&E failed to “immediately notify proper authorities of the discharge,” according to a statement from District Attorney Jill Ravitch.
Under the terms of the settlement approved by Judge Allan Hardcastle, PG&E will pay $80,000 in civil penalties and $40,000 in investigative and enforcement costs.
Source: PG&E to pay $120,000 for Santa Rosa creek spill | The Press Democrat
Steve Lopez, LOS ANGELES TIMES
All week long, the ultimate destination was the Sonoma County coast.That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy knocking around Tolowa Dunes, the Smith River and the Lost Coast last week.
Even though I’m a native Californian, I’d done very little exploring up there where the misty shore is rocky, elk run wild and giant redwoods creep down to the sea.
But I was eager to get to the place where the state’s coastal preservation movement took root four decades ago in a David-and-Goliath battle, and I knew I’d be meeting some of the visionaries to whom all Californians owe a debt of gratitude. Their story and the lessons learned are more important than ever, given project proposals big and small that could forever alter the California coast.
I knew I’d be meeting some of the visionaries to whom all Californians owe a debt of gratitude.Let me set the scene first.In the early 1960s, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. planned and began building a power plant at Bodega Head, one of the most jaw-dropping stretches of coast on the planet.
Meanwhile, developers were mapping plans for a monster residential project just north of Jenner at Sea Ranch, where sheep grazed between coastal bluffs and stunning pebble beaches.Those projects had the support of local officials, who saw new streams of revenue.
But a small group of residents saw something else: the destruction of paradise.
They believed there would be irreparable harm to fisheries and the magnificent coastal habitat. In their minds, there’d be another crime, as well: the privatization of a public treasure.
The late Bill Kortum, a veterinarian from Petaluma, refused to let it happen.
When I got to Bodega Bay, I met with Kortum’s wife, Lucy, and his son, Sam, along with others who had lobbied, biked, hiked, knocked on doors and circulated petitions all those years ago to save the coast.
Read more at: Why California’s northern coast doesn’t look like Atlantic City – LA Times