The CPUC voted unanimously to grant Commission President Michael Peevey unilateral authority to order pressure increased in the natural gas line that exploded.
"The resolution creates what I would characterize as 'backstop emergency authority.' It is an authorization that I hope and expect not to exercise," Peevey said.
The segment that exploded in San Bruno is part of line 132, a major transmission line running from Milpitas to San Francisco. The CPUC ordered pressure in that line reduced to 80 percent after the rupture. But if very cold weather hits the Bay Area, pressure could need to be increased to maintain service to all customers.
If they are not allowed to increase pressure, 35 peninsula and San Francisco hospitals would not have gas service; that's because they have agreed to have service cut when demand is high in exchange for lower rates.
Peevey says he will only approve increased pressure if safety is guaranteed by experts. Renee Morales, whose daughter Jessica was killed in the blast, asked that Peevey not be given sole authority.
"So, I just implore you guys continue to work together and that safety is considered first," she said.
San Bruno resident Kathy de Renzi was also initially opposed.
"I'm disappointed that they would increase the pressure without knowing why the pipeline exploded, but I feel a little bit more comfortable knowing he won't do it without getting expert advice," she said.
PG&E says it's trying to find a way to avoid having to increase pressure in line 132.
"What we're working toward is a goal of reliable service to all and not having to curtail anyone," PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said.
Peevey says any increase will be slight, and he will not approve a return to 100 percent pressure.