On April 29, the U.S. District Court overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation, stemming from its criminal conviction for the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, issued a new ruling and probation conditions concerning PG&E’s vegetation management and De-Energization practices, called PSPS events. That ruling stopped far short of imposing new requirements for PG&E to initiate PSPS events, as it had initially proposed. Originally, the Court considered ordering PG&E to de-energize its electrical lines based on the risk of trees or limbs that could fall on distribution lines—called the tree overstrike exposure—in Tier 2 and Tier 3 High Fire Threat Districts (HFTDs). The CPUC, OES, and others expressed strong concerns that such conditions would essentially double the frequency and expand the duration of PSPS events in many areas.
The court ultimately found PG&E “used some sleight-of-hand” to portray the effects of the proposed Court Order, and declined to give PG&E a “Get-Out-of-Jail-Free” card that could be used in future civil lawsuits and/or criminal prosecution for future wildfires. Instead, the Court gave deference to the CPUC and OES and merely recommended that PG&E take into account hazard trees in Tier 2 and Tier 3 HFTDs when determining whether to de-energize distribution lines. Importantly, the Court acknowledged that PSPS events should be a last resort. PG&E retains the discretion to adopt the Court’s recommendations. The Court’s ruling can be viewed here.
The court also provided clarification on when PG&E must remove trees, even healthy trees, that have the potential to come into contact with power lines. The Court’s ruling on hazard trees can be found here.