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PG&E Had Systemic Problems with Power Line Maintenance, California Probe Finds (wsj.com)
82 points by grzm 2 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments





After the San Bruno pipeline explosion, where PG&E gas pipeline maintenance and inspection records were falsified, is anyone surprised?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Bruno_pipeline_explosion#L...

If a company is forced to implement a "compliance and ethics monitoring program" by the federal government, it has some serious culture problems.


> If a company is forced to implement a "compliance and ethics monitoring program" by the federal government, it has some serious culture problems.

And where were the state regulators in all of this?

Someone on HN once mentioned that CPUC [1] allowed deferred maintenance on a lot of stuff because it helped to keep rates down. This prevented customers screaming at politicians. True/plausible?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Public_Utilities_Co...


> And where were the state regulators in all of this?

In bed with PG&E the whole time, of course.


>PG&E sought bankruptcy protection in January, citing more than $30 billion in potential liabilities from fires sparked by its equipment. This fall, the utility has blacked out millions of its own customers during strong winds to try to prevent its equipment from starting more fires, a move that has generated widespread criticism, including from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state leaders.

How does this work if a private utility company seeks bankruptcy? Do its responsibilities get taken over by the government? Can they even seize operations?


PG&E's in Chapter 11. In Chapter 11 bankruptcy the company continues operating as if nothing had happened. (Well, except that there may be layoffs and work furloughs if the company lacks sufficient cash to pay salaries, and they're probably not making major capital investments.) What changes is the capital structure - the payments due to creditors and dividends paid to shareholders. Basically the company is saying "Well, guess we don't have the money to pay all our debts, so nobody's getting anything until we work out a new arrangement that we can actually support with our assets and cash flows." In this case the bankruptcy was triggered by court judgments that found PG&E liable for the 2018 fires, so the bankruptcy means that the court settlements are suspended while another court figures out who's going to pay for them.

In practice, what often happens during Chapter 11 proceedings is that the stock goes to nearly zero (it's close but not there yet with PG&E), on the assumption that many of the common stockholders will be wiped out and the debt recapitalized as shares. Bonds also become very risky, as bondholders expect that they may not see all of the principal repaid. Assets can be sold off to pay creditors - this is part of the negotiations in the bankruptcy proceedings. But ordinary workers largely keep on doing their jobs, though there's a big cloud of "will there be layoffs or not?" surrounding it.

It's very rare (and almost unheard of in the U.S.) for a private corporation to be nationalized and taken over by the government; the government generally is not in the business of running complex operations, other than the military. Even in the financial crisis of 2009, bankrupt organizations were recapitalized by the government (where the government basically took over the debt and wiped out existing shareholders) rather than seized (where the government installs its own people and takes over operations).


At a certain point during Chapter 11 the title of the company seemingly changes to "ABC co, debtor in possession" and that goes on the checks, and those checks don't get honored as much. I believe this status is not permanent. The worker's unpaid vacation time becomes a debt and you don't end up with much of that debt paid off. I joined a company that was in Chapter 11 and none of this affected me adversely, so I think this is a passing phase, but it would not be fun for the long-time employees.


Thank you, kind person.

Executives that let this happen under their watch should be charged with the deaths of those 85 people.

Completely agree with you, but I'll be surprised if even the outsized bonuses and dividends they paid themselves over the past ten years (with money which should have gone to line maintenance and upgrades) are clawed back.

Not sure why this is being downvoted as it's been the case.

PG&E is far away from the concept of a modern 'smart grid', running archaic and obsolete overground infrastructure. It is incredible that companies like Tesla are also in California when the Paradise fire, caused by a 100 year old rusty pylon failing on an inaccessible hillside, resulted in massive subsequent precautionary power outages that rendered EV's useless in recent emergency situations.

To be fair, gas powered vehicles are less effective in a power outage too since without power (or a backup generator) at the gas station, they can't refuel. Of course, you can drive your gas powered car outside of the area to refuel, but you can do the same with an EV -- during the recent PG&E scheduled outages, EV owners worked out a rotation for the EV chargers at work so they could all recharge at work while the power was out at home.

My gas powered car can go about 160 miles on half a tank of gas (which is about the average amount I have in it at any time). If I had an EV, I'd charge it overnight, so I'd have 200 - 300 miles of range in the event of a power outage.


Well, you can bring gas in far more easily than the equivalent amount of electricity... That said, scheduled outages shouldn't ever be a thing except when you're getting new in-house wiring. Anything else that can be scheduled should only cause a few seconds of power loss during the physical switchover from your line getting disconnected from the old feed-in and re-connected to the new feed-in. If this takes more than a minute, they're doing something wrong (yes, this implies stripping the cable while live and all that. Routine, and easy to contain at the voltages (<1kV) involved. Higher voltages do come up, but at least here in Germany those are redundant setups usually based on rings at the smallest (10kV) scale. The redundancy would be reduced during this, but that's just an increased failure risk, not a certain outage.)

I'm not sure you're aware of the scheduled outages I'm referring to (and why would you? You live in a country with reliable power). I'm referring to the scheduled outages where our power company decides to turn off power for entire cities and regions because they didn't invest enough money in maintaining their power grid to prevent wildfires during high winds and trees blow into the power lines.

So it leads to the case where hundreds of thousands of people have no power at home, but often a short distance away (like maybe where they work), the power is fine.


I'm aware of what PG&E is doing. Sorry if I sounded otherwise.

That said, I mentioned these things because it's a should. I'm compassionate for those in that unfortunate situation.

I don't know about how the distance scales are regarding the interactions between commuting, geography, infrastructure sections, etc. I'm partially arguing about a situation with a less voluntary shutoff on a comparable scale. A scenario with similar infrastructure availability, just larger regions with sparse/meager availability. Think of what you'd have in case of a sudden jump to 100% renewables. Existing storage doesn't suffice for 24/7 traditional load curves. Overall demand is higher than supply....

Anyways, it was more a yawning in defeat than a case of "confused pikachu". (Forgive me for the wording, and feel free to correct. I'm not trying to joke.)


They do have backup generators, and a convenient source of diesel to run them.

Some maybe, but none in near my house -- when the power is out, the gas stations close.

A coworker of mine lives in the east Bay Area hills and had power outages on two occasions for a couple of days at a time. Their Tesla worked just fine, backed by solar panels and a power wall.

If grid instability becomes a bigger problem, due to e.g. decades of corruption surrounding infrastructure maintenance, I expect household-scale battery installations to become a more popular thing.


‘Smart grid’ still uses above ground transmission that is identical. The cost of burial is 10x. In either case the smarts are on the ends of the transmission circuits not the actual mechanical construction of the circuit.

California's a big state...

I wish I could find a copy of this report online

It's on the CPUC FTP server

ftp.cpuc.ca.gov:News_and_Outreach

'I1906015 Appendix A SED Camp Fire Investigation Report REDACTED.pdf' '259 MB' '12/2/19, 7:40:00 AM'


ftp://ftp.cpuc.ca.gov/News_and_Outreach/I1906015%20Appendix%20A%20SED%20Camp%20Fire%20Investigation%20Report%20REDACTED.pdf for a link

But at least they were paying out dividends. Sure those dividends were being paid directly by tax dollars in the form of the inevitable bail out, but at least private individuals got that money first.

Please don't post snarky rage comments here. I know it's the internet, but that's not what this site is for, as you'll notice if you review the guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html



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