As lawyers for the victims of the San Bruno fire, we learned that the “gas side of the house” at PG&E saves money by collecting money from rate payers to perform maintenance and then deferring the work. The extra money on the books helps improve PG&E’s bottom line, and results in bigger bonuses for PG&E's management.
As it turns out, the electric side of the house has a history of doing the same thing. Most notably, in 1998 the California Public Utilities Commission found that PG&E took $77.6 million that was supposed to be spent trimming trees near power lines, and used it to boost profits, just as PG&E would later do in San Bruno.
The CPUC report followed a Nevada County jury’s verdict that found PG&E criminally liable for the Trauner fire near Grass Valley. That fire was started when a tree limb that PG&E was supposed to keep trimmed brushed up against a 21.000-volt power line.
The Nevada County Deputy District Attorney on this case was hopeful that the verdict would bring about change.
Hopefully, this sends a message to upper-level PG&E management that they must do whatever is necessary to comply with the law and protect public safety.
Given what happened in San Bruno, and what just happened in Butte, the Nevada County verdict apparently wasn’t enough of a message.