PG&E announces new plan for automatic shutoff valves

Wednesday, PG&E announced a new pipeline plan to install more automatic shut off valves in dense areas.

October 12, 2010 6:49:07 PM PDT
Heeding the criticism by elected officials and others that it took too long to shut down the pipeline that exploded in San Bruno on Sept. 9, PG&E this afternoon announced that it plans to replace manual shutoff valves with automatic or remote-controlled valves in the most densely populated areas. Chris Johns, PG&E president, did not put a timetable or cost on the project, but he said that just over 1,000 miles of its pipelines would be involved.

The announcement came as part of a press conference at PG&E headquarters in Downtown San Francisco where the utility company also unveiled a long-term project dubbed "Pipeline 2020." It's a program that will focus on five major areas:

  • modernizing PG&E's pipelines
  • expanding the use of automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves
  • spurring development of next-generation pipeline inspection technologies
  • developing industry-wide "best practices"
  • working more closely with communities and first responders

As part of the plan to develop new pipeline inspection technologies, PG&E said it would chip in $10 million from shareholder funds toward the creation of a non-profit group to do research and development.

PG&E President Johns could not specify how much "Pipeline 2020" will cost or who will pay for it. He did say that the project would work in conjunction with pending legislation from California's two U.S. Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and with Rep. Jackie Speier, who represents the San Bruno neighborhood that was leveled by the pipeline explosion and fire.

The consumer group The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, called much of the "Pipeline 2020" plan a public relations strategy.

Its attorney specializing in energy issues, Marcel Hawiger, said that all of its proposals are matters that PG&E already should have been doing. He was also critical of the $10 million directed toward creating a non-profit research and development group, saying that its work would probably duplicate efforts of another industry-funded group called the Gas Technology Institute.