TURN tries to stop PG&E $2B rate hike

July 16, 2009 6:51:31 PM PDT
A consumer watchdog group is filing papers this week to oppose a $2 billion rate increase for PG&E. The executive director of The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, says the power company shouldn't be rewarded for failing.

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ABC7 started looking into the PG&E's problems after a particularly dramatic vault fire happened at Polk and O'Farrell last month.

The fire burned for a couple of hours. It shut off power to more than 8,000 customers in San Francisco and it prompted State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to call for an investigation. This week PG&E said the problem was a 90?year-old cable.

"This D.C. cable was installed in the 1920's to service elevators in historical buildings," says PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer.

Eisenhauer says the company is spending $5 million to replace similar cables and they're spending $200 million to upgrade the city's aging electrical system.

"Those are strictly to address upgrading the infrastructure here in San Francisco," says Eisenhauer.

The infrastructure in San Francisco is in need of upgrading. ABC7 found 16 vault fires in the past five years. PG&E's record of power outages is twice the national average and well above the other major power companies in California.

"Customers are paying top dollar, but are getting too many shutoffs and too many outages. That's what the real issue is," says TURN executive director Mark Toney.

TURN is a utility watchdog organization that is compiling expert testimony that it will file on Friday with the Public Utility Commission, opposing a PG&E request for a $2 billion rate hike.

"PG&E is using the power outages as an argument for why it should get $2 billion extra of rate payer money to fix these things," says Toney.

However, the$2 billion, for what the power company is calling its corner stone program, won't be used to replace the aging equipment. The money is for new equipment to better handle power outages throughout PG&E's entire system.

"It's all about providing safe and reliable service to our customers and that corner stone improvement program will further enhance that safe and reliable service in other ways, aside from replacing infrastructure," says Eisenhauer.

TURN says before the company gets another dime from rate payers, it should fix the system it has now.

"PG&E should either fix the problem or get out of the business. One or the other," says Toney.

San Francisco's mayor says the reason for PG&E's frequent power outages is no mystery. The company just isn't doing enough to replace its ageing equipment. PG&E said Thursday it's doing enough.

The California Public Utilities Commission is set to decide on the $2 billion request this fall.

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