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State regulators consider breaking up PG&E over safety concerns

State regulators consider breaking up PG&E over safety concerns
Pacific Gas & Electric crews repair power lines that were destroyed by the Camp fire near Paradise, Calif. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

California regulators said Friday they are considering splitting up Pacific Gas & Electric Co. or making other drastic changes amid concerns over the utility’s role in recent gas explosions and wildfires.

Among the options under consideration by the California Public Utilities Commission are breaking up the utility’s natural gas and electric distribution and transmission divisions; replacing part or all of the utility’s board of directors and its corporate management; conditioning its equity return on safety; reorganizing the company into regional subsidiaries; or making PG&E a public utility.

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The commission hasn’t made any final decisions and is taking comments on those and other proposals through Jan. 30.

A PG&E spokeswoman did not immediately comment.

“We must be careful and practical,” Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker said in a statement. “This process will be like repairing a jetliner while it’s in flight. Crashing a plane to make it safer isn’t good for the passengers.”

Regulators have been examining the utility’s safety policies for years. A review was ordered after a 2010 gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in the Bay Area suburb of San Bruno. The utility faced more than $1.6 billion in fines and penalties levied by the commission, and it was required to work with a federal monitor as part of a criminal proceeding.

Officials are currently investigating whether PG&E’s equipment started the Camp fire six weeks ago in Northern California that leveled the town of Paradise, killed at least 86 people and destroyed close to 15,000 homes. Because the cause of that specific fire hasn’t been determined, it’s not directly part of the commission’s safety examination, although regulators are considering past fires and that the utility’s service is in fire-prone areas.

“PG&E has had serious safety problems with both its gas and electric operations for many years,” read a commission order issued Friday.

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