The SF Chronicle reports that PG&E planned to fix part of the pipeline that exploded in San Bruno - but last year delayed the fix to spend the money elsewhere. The big question is, did that delay happen so PG&E could spend $46 million to try and undermine local democracy in their attempt to pass Prop 16?
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. asked state regulators three years ago for permission to spend $4.87 million to replace a portion of the same natural gas pipeline that ruptured last week and set a San Bruno neighborhood on fire....
Neither project has come to fruition. The South San Francisco project was moved down the priority list and the money spent elsewhere, and the southern project is still pending approval from state regulators. And now some observers wonder if the utility missed a chance to spot flaws in the pipeline that could have contributed to the Sept. 9 explosion, which killed four people, left three missing and destroyed 37 homes.
As the article explains, PG&E's deferred maintenance policies are nothing new:
In one infamous case, a 1998 report from the California Public Utilities Commission found that the utility had taken $77.6 million that was supposed to be spent trimming trees near power lines - a vital step in wildfire prevention - and used it to boost corporate profits instead.
So what might have PG&E wanted to do with its money instead of repairing a pipeline that was known to be among the most dangerous in the country, desperately in need of repair?
Well, it was in late 2009 when PG&E leadership decided to spend millions of dollars to pass Prop 16, which would limit local democracy in order to preserve PG&E's monopoly. PG&E executives warned shareholders to expect a loss in 2010 because of spending on Prop 16, which would indicate that it may well have been a factor in PG&E's decision to defer maintenance on the pipeline that later exploded.
Once again, as I explained recently, this shows why we should not leave important infrastructure like this in the hands of private corporations. It needs to be publicly owned and operated to be effective and safe, because corporations will always have the incentive to spend to protect their profits and their market position instead of provide safe services to the public.