PG&E Truck with Yellow Tape

PG&E executives finished their second week of hearings at the CPUC to review the utility's reorganization plan. At a hearing on March 2, PG&E's chief ethics officer told a fire victim that she has not reviewed the future plan of the company for ethical considerations.

Pacific Gas & Electric's chief ethics officer at a March 2 court hearing told a wildfire victim that she has not reviewed PG&E's reorganization plan for ethical considerations and hasn't read letters from victims.

PG&E is currently in bankruptcy due to failures of its equipment that led to many of the state's largest and most deadly wildfires over the past three years. Utility representatives have been testifying at the California Public Utilities Commission over the past two weeks on how PG&E will be a changed company going forward.

"Do you look at the [reorganization] plan for ethical concerns?" fire victim Will Abrams asked PG&E Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer Julie Kane during this week's hearing.

"Not specifically, no," Kane said.

"How are you in touch with the ethical concerns [of] your customers?" Abrams asked.

"There are numerous ways," Kane said. "We have a matrixed organization. One of our lines of business is our customer care organization. When I am interacting with [them] . . . we talk about their [compliance and ethics] activities."

Kane joined PG&E in 2015 and leads ethics and compliance training, while overseeing matters related to PG&E's criminal convictions for a natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno in 2010.

The CPUC in 2015 opened an investigation into PG&E's safety culture in order to determine whether the utility adequately directs resources to promote accountability and achieve safety goals and standards [I15-08-019]. An effective safety culture is a prerequisite to a utility's positive safety performance record and is "judged and measured by the organization's performance and results in the world (reality)," the CPUC said in its order instituting investigation, filed two years before the 2017 North Bay wildfires and three years before the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history.

The CPUC's evidentiary hearings with PG&E's executives will help the commission make an informed decision on the utility's restructuring plan and proposal before PG&E exits bankruptcy, a commission spokesperson told California Energy Markets.

At the March 2 hearing, Abrams continued to question Kane, asking, "Have you familiarized yourself with the letters that have been sent in from victims into the bankruptcy court?"

"Not in any detail, no," Kane said.

"Have you looked at [the letters] at all?" Abrams asked.

"I'm aware that letters have come in," Kane said.

CPUC President Marybel Batjer, who is the assigned commissioner in PG&E's bankruptcy proceeding [R19-09-016], in a memo last month said that the CPUC's role as a regulator is to ensure PG&E's responsibilities are being discharged so that its customers receive safe and reliable service at reasonable rates consistent with achieving California's climate goals.

"It must be clearly demonstrated that mechanisms are in place to ensure that the utility has emerged as a fundamentally changed company that has a commitment and ability to provide safe and reliable service at reasonable rates and can simultaneously continue needed improvements to mitigate wildfire risk and achieve the state's climate goals," Batjer said.

A second round of evidentiary hearings on PG&E's bankruptcy could start March 18, if needed, according to the CPUC.

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Staff Writer

David Krause is an energy reporter covering the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board. He writes about transportation, climate change, utilities, and wildfires. He has an MFA in Writing, an MA in English, and a BS in Civil Engineering.