Officials demand vault fire investigation

July 7, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
An explosion and fire at a PG&E underground sub-station in San Francisco is under investigation. After several of these mishaps in the city, including another one just a month ago, the drum beat to take action is getting louder.

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After Monday's vault fire at Fourth and Market streets, State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, repeated his call for an investigation.

"Is PG&E's performance acceptable? If it isn't what is the threshold?" said Leno.

A month ago a much bigger vault fire at Polk and O'Farrell prompted Leno to write a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission formally requesting an investigation.

On Tuesday, San Francisco Mayor Gaving Newsom said he already knows what the investigation would conclude

"Here's the conclusion of the investigation -- there are too many, we need to hold them accountable and we need to make sure they're providing appropriate resources to upgrade an aging system," said Newsom.

Four years ago, Newsom signed a request for a similar investigation, urging the CPUC to require PG&E to take all necessary steps to ensure that its indoor substations are safe.

"Safety and reliability are the top concerns of this company and we want to respond to that," said Joe Molica from PG&E.

PG&E says it has made significant strides, but hard data is hard to come by, like when was the equipment on this vault last inspected.

"On this, I will check back and get back to you right away. On this vault when it was last inspected, and when the equipment down there was checked out. Safety and reliability are top priorities of this company," said Molica.

And the fact that PG&E's power outages are twice the national average.

"It's true that we need to do more and we certainly recognize that we need to do more. We strive to provide excellent service for our customers. Our top priorities are reliability and safety for our customers," said Molica.

"You know I get the same thing, I get the same spin, rhetoric and then the reality is different," said Newsom.

Mayor Gavin Newsom told ABC7 he's fed up.

"I'm exhausted with the excuses and the rhetoric," said Newsom.

Our records document 16 vault fires in the past five years and one of them seriously injuring a woman. But the mayor admits recently there has been some progress.

"Our experts do tell us they're making progress. It's just not the progress that we need to see in an aging environment an aging infrastructure in San Francisco," said Newsom.

Newsom and Leno both say it is up to the CPUC to hold PG&E's feet to the fire -- so to speak.

The CPUC has not responded to Leno, and they haven't said if they have responded to the investigation request four years ago.

PG&E's spokesman told ABC7 that vault was last inspected in November.

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