Pacific Gas & Electric on Oct. 3 filed a proposed $65-million settlement with utility regulators over its 2018 locate-and-mark investigation.

PG&E, the California Public Utilities Commission's Safety and Enforcement Division, and the Coalition of California Utility Employees agreed to the settlement amount and requirements, which must now be approved by an administrative law judge.

From at least 2012 to 2017, PG&E significantly undercounted the number of late tickets in its locate-and-mark program, which identifies where underground gas lines and electrical conduit lie before people can dig. Up to 135,000 tickets were incorrectly counted, the settlement proposal says.

If approved, shareholders will pay the proposed amount, according to the proposal, of which $41 million would be spent on hiring additional locate-and-mark employees through 2022; $7 million would fund a new locate-and-mark ticket management system and updates to electric-facilities information in PG&E's database; and $5 million would be paid as a fine to the state's general fund.

The Utility Reform Network did not object to the proposed settlement, but said it must provide a "full and fair opportunity to develop the record" regarding TURN's and other parties' concerns throughout the investigation. Previously, the CPUC's Office of the Safety Advocate dropped out of settlement discussions, stating it had raised concerns that were "not being addressed" (see CEM No. 1557).

Then-PG&E Gas Operations Vice President Jesus Soto said the company experienced a significant increase in the volume of locate-and-mark requests between 2012 and 2017, according to testimony cited in the settlement proposal. As the number of tickets grew, PG&E at times failed to maintain sufficient staffing for the increased volume of requests, but still expected its staff to have zero late tickets, a directive that was delivered in an overly forceful manner, according to the proposal. 

The company's undercounting of late tickets might have contributed to 67 dig-ins of its underground gas pipelines and electrical facilities (see CEM No. 1549).

A CPUC hearing to approve or deny the proposed settlement is scheduled for Oct. 21 and 22.

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.