Category Archives: Pacific Gas & Electric (PGE)

Refineries asking for exemption from state power shutdowns during high fire danger – Valero Benicia lawsuit on hold

KQED, THE CALIFORNIA REPORT

California Oil Industry Sounds Alarm Over Utilities’ Power Shutoff Plans

By Ted Goldberg, Aug 20, 2019

A refinery in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson burns off flammable gases after a September 2005 power outage blacked out much of the L.A. area. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The industry group representing oil companies in California says if the state’s utilities shut off power to refineries during periods of high fire danger, the facilities could be knocked offline, resulting in major pollution releases and increased gasoline prices.

The Western States Petroleum Association asked California regulators in early May for exemptions from power shutoff plans that the state and electrical utilities have adopted to reduce the chances of power lines starting fires during extremely windy and hot conditions.

The industry group warned that an outage as short as a minute could result in refineries going off line for up to three weeks, triggering a series of ugly consequences.

“An uncontrolled shutdown of a refinery from a de-energization action would result in immediate emergency load shedding, flaring and a heightened risk of a catastrophic event,” the association wrote in a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The filing has prompted an angry reaction from a leading environmental group, which says it fears the oil companies will use a power shutdown as a justification for harmful emissions.

“It’s outrageous that action to protect against wildfire risk might result in dangerous pollution,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Refineries shouldn’t be allowed to use this as an excuse to contaminate the air we breathe.”

When asked recently about the petroleum association’s concerns, a PG&E representative said the utility would work to restore power faster for refineries after the shutoffs.

“We are continually working to analyze our systems, refine our procedures and further assess how we can minimize the impacts of a public safety power shutoff. This includes working towards the ability to be able to prioritize the re-energization of critical infrastructure like oil refineries,” said Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman.

Two weeks after the association’s filing, the commission approved PG&E’s shutoff plans. Oil companies did not get the break they wanted.

But the association’s concerns have not faded. The head of the industry group continues to call on the state’s utilities to keep the power flowing to refineries even during periods of high fire danger.

“Unplanned shutdowns imposed by a utility can result in health, safety and environmental impacts,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the group’s president, said in a statement.

“If a utility’s actions disrupt the fuel supply chain, this could significantly impact affordable fuel costs for businesses and consumers in California,” Reheis-Boyd said. “Utilities need to make sure that they are investing adequate resources to protect critical facilities to ensure that any de-energization event is used as an absolute last resort and does not cause more harm to Californians.”

PG&E Shutoff Plan Scrutinized

The industry’s concerns were highlighted last week when state lawmakers scrutinized PG&E’s shutoff plans. State Sen. Scott Wiener. D-San Francisco, mentioned the refineries while questioning a PG&E executive.

“We saw the oil industry, and I’m not usually aligned with the oil industry, but their letter was very compelling. That’s pretty problematic for that to happen,” Wiener said during a state Senate subcommittee hearing last Wednesday.

PG&E says it recently met with the industry to discuss its concerns, but it has not signaled an intention to alter its shutoff plans.

Sumeet Singh, the PG&E vice president overseeing the company’s wildfire safety program, told the panel that the transmission system serving refineries is built with redundancy in mind.

“When you look at our transmission system, by nature, especially the 100-kilovolt and above … there’s quite a lot of reliability that’s built into it,” Singh said. That means “if you lose a line, you have another” line as a backup, he added.

Singh also suggested that the oil industries can take PG&E to court “if they fundamentally believe that the decision that we made was inaccurate, inappropriate, targeted in some way, led to some harm.”

2017 Power Outage at Valero Refinery

An oil company lawsuit against the utility would not be unprecedented. A May 2017 power failure at Valero’s Benicia plant triggered a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide and prompted emergency shelter-in-place orders.

The CPUC blamed PG&E for the outage, but declined to punish the company. Valero filed a lawsuit against the utility, seeking more than $75 million in damages. That lawsuit is currently on hold pending the outcome of PG&E’s bankruptcy proceedings.

The industry’s filing with the commission says the 2017 Valero outage proves the dangers an electricity failure poses to a refinery.

Currently, the Valero refinery is not in an area designated by PG&E as one at high risk for a public safety power shutoff. Solano County inspectors and Benicia fire officials note that the refinery gets power from two separate lines.

Terry Schmidtbauer, Solano County’s assistant director of resource management, which oversees the Benicia facility, says the likelihood of Valero losing power from a pre-emptive shutoff is low.

“That being said, we are all aware of the past events where Valero did lose all power and had to shut down rather quickly. Such an event is not impossible, even if highly unlikely,” Schmidtbauer said.

Both in 2017 and last March, when Valero shut down due to two refinery component malfunctions, the cost of gasoline in California increased.

Schmidtbauer said after the 2017 outage, county inspectors told Valero to set up a procedure by which it would rely more on fuel gas and steam to generate electricity at the plant to run the refinery if it were to lose power from PG&E.

A Valero spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Contra Costa County’s refineries — the Chevron, Shell, Phillips 66 and Marathon plants — are expected to rely more on their cogeneration facilities and reduce refining in cases of power shutoffs, according to Randy Sawyer, the county’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer.

“I am expecting that they will cut back on their operations so they can continue to operate somewhat on their own,” Sawyer said.

Shell’s Martinez refinery has emergency backup systems, but they are not enough to power the entire plant, according to Shell spokeswoman Ann Notarangelo.

“We do not have enough onsite generation to sustain plant operations in the event of a complete loss of power from PG&E,” Notarangelo said.

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    Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick – PGE / Valero prepared for power shut-offs

    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.

    To learn more about Public Safety Power Shutoffs, visit the PG& E PSPs webpage.

    Josh Chadwick, Benicia Fire Chief

    For more information, contact Josh Chadwick, Fire Chief at jchadwick@ci.benicia.ca.us or (707) 7464275.

     

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      Benicia Mayor Patterson on State decision not to penalize PG&E

      From Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s E-ALERT
      [See also: KQED NEWS, California Report.]

      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.
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        KQED: State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

        Repost from KQED NEWS, California Report
        [See also: Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s full comment.]

        State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

        The Valero Benicia refinery. (Craig Miller/KQED)

        The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which recently blamed PG&E for causing a major power outage at Valero’s Benicia refinery last year, has decided not to punish the utility for the mistakes that led to one of the worst Bay Area refinery accidents in years.

        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.

         

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