Questions on PG&E shut-offs prompt Benicia response
Vallejo Times-Herald, June 15, 2019
In response to question about PG&E’s public safety power shut-offs [PSPS’s] and their potential impact to the city of Benicia and the Valero Benicia Refinery, the Benicia Fire Department said Fire Chief Josh Chadwick has been working closely with the State Office of Emergency Services and PG& E to gather answers.
Here is what is known at this time:
• The power interruptions in Benicia on Monday and Tuesday were not related to a PG& E PSPS.
• PSPSs are designed to shut power off in either the Elevated or Extreme California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Fire-Threat Districts. There are no CPUC Extreme Fire- Threat Districts in Solano County. The only Elevated Fire-Threat Districts in Solano are in North Vacaville near Lake Berryessa and in the West area of Green Valley.
• Valero Refinery has two separate sources of power — one that comes in from the north and the other that comes in from the south. Their system is designed so that if one of the sources were to be shut off, the second source would be sufficient to keep the power to Valero uninterrupted.
• Per PG& E, PSPS are essentially based on upcoming weather events and should not come without warning.
• Unlike a sudden and unexpected power loss, with prior notice Valero has the ability to limit impacts through a controlled shut-down.
• Portable generators would not have the capacity to provide sufficient power to supply the refinery.
• There are numerous major commercial, industrial, and critical infrastructure facilities located throughout California which would be severely impacted by a loss of power. State OES personnel are currently working with the California Public Utilities Commission to address these facilities.
From: Mayor Elizabeth Patterson
Sent: Thursday, August 9, 2018 9:32 AM
Subject: State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage
My full statement to KQED was:
Without an Industrial Safety Ordinance residents and workers in Benicia are at risk because the CPUC cravenly fails to ensure that PG&E provide adequate training when working on power supply to Valero Refinery. Without an Industrial Safety Ordinance Benicia has no way to check on the adequacy and timeliness of PG&E training.
On top of that the city cannot require Valero to “power down” when major work is being done by PG&E. The CPUC fails to consider the public – the City of Benicia and its school district are the only public entities in the near catastrophic May 5th PG&E power outage at Valero Refinery. The Public Utilities Commission fails to consider the city in its investigation. There was no effort to determine the costs to the city for opening and operating the Emergency Center; no cost for deploying our police and fire personnel; no cost for all staff on deck for the entire episode; no cost for the loss of public trust . No effort to determine the costs to the BUSD for shelter in place. No effort to determine the cost to loss of business in the Benicia Industrial Park. Without the ISO the City of Benicia could not present this information to the CPUC. Sleeping on the “Public” of the CA Public Utilities Commission does not extinguish the need for Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.
Mission Statement: The CPUC regulates services and utilities, protects consumers, safeguards the environment, and assures Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.
CPUC Investigation Conclusion:
My [CPUC] investigation found that PG&E violated General Order 174, Rule 12 because: 1) PG&E failed to maintain the CCTV for its intended use and also2) PG&E failed to provide adequate training, documents, or diagrams for its operators to identify the CCVT as part of the anti-islanding protection scheme since the documents, diagrams, and training on the protection scheme did not provide enough clarity on the activation conditions and how they relate to the failed CCVT.
The commission concluded that PG&E’s inadequate training of operations personnel and slow response to the failure of an electrical component led to the May 5, 2017, outage, which triggered a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide and prompted emergency shelter-in-place orders in Benicia.
But the state agency — at this point — does not plan to penalize the company.
“PG&E has agreed to take corrective actions that, in CPUC staff’s opinion, would prevent a recurrence of the problems,” commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said in an email.
“SED (The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division) does not plan to issue a citation with penalties at this time, but will monitor to ensure that PG&E addresses the problems sufficiently and in a timely manner,” Prosper said, adding that if things change, the commission could reopen the probe and cite the utility.
The CPUC’s decision did not sit well with the area’s elected leaders.
“I think it’s outrageous,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), who represents the area. “Not only continually has PG&E’s safety protocols been called into question, but now this leads me to call into question the oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission.”
Dodd plans to send a letter to CPUC President Michael Picker in the coming days, expressing outrage over the agency’s decision.
“They clearly violated the law,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a longtime critic of PG&E, in an interview Thursday.
“To give them a pass certainly does not bode well for the change in culture and policies and prioritization at the PUC where safety is supposed to be paramount,” said Hill, who’s been pushing the commission to be a stricter regulator of PG&E since the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.
“It indicates a systemic problem with PG&E,” he said. “The CPUC should do its job, enforce the law and cite PG&E.
Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who has been pushing for the city to have more oversight over the refinery, said the CPUC’s decision means it failed to consider that the city was gravely affected by the outage.
“Residents and workers in Benicia are at risk because the CPUC cravenly fails to ensure that PG&E provide adequate training when working on power supply to the Valero refinery,” Patterson said.
The mayor says the commission should have considered fining PG&E for costs associated with the city’s opening of its emergency center and the work its police and firefighters did the day of the outage, among other sacrifices Benicia made in dealing with the refinery accident.
The Valero shutdown led to several government investigations, a brief increase in gas prices and a lawsuit by Valero against PG&E.
The CPUC said a lack of training and unclear company documents led PG&E workers to misunderstand the importance of a key piece of equipment that went down before the outage.
Valero, when asked to comment on the commission’s decision, reiterated that blame was on PG&E for the entire episode.
“We agree with the CPUC report, which found that PG&E violated state regulations and is solely responsible for the May 5, 2017 power outage,” company spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said in an emailed statement.
“PG&E must take the necessary corrective actions to prevent this from happening again,” Riojas said.
PG&E disputes the CPUC’s findings and continues to blame Valero for the incident, but says it’s taking steps to prevent a similar problem.
“Since this incident, we have completed several corrective actions … including adding alarms and alerts, regularly reviewing work processes and making changes to verification status of protective systems and holding regular refresher trainings for operators,” said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman, in a statement.