PG&E’s Vegetation Management Program Under Fire After North Bay Blazes

November 06, 2017

NBC Bay Area
By Jaxon Van Derbeken

PG&E auditors allow one out of 100 trees they check to violate state power line clearance standards, NBC Bay Area has learned.

But critics say one out of 100 is one too many.

PG&E’s CEO has staunchly defended the utility's program, which came under scrutiny after the 2015 Butte Fire that killed two and devastated more than 70,000 acres in Amador and Calaveras counties.

“Our people are well-trained, our patrols are terrific, we are on time, everything is going great,” Geisha Williams said in July, during a videotaped deposition in the Butte fire litigation.

Last week, Williams reiterated her defense of the company’s effort to manage the 55 million trees that grow near its power lines.

“We also have one of, if not the most comprehensive vegetation management programs in the country,” she told shareholders in the company’s quarterly earnings call last Thursday, with the company spending more than $400 million last year on clearing trees because of the drought.

"Through its Electric Vegetation Management program,” the company said Monday in a statement, “PG&E dedicates hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of workforce hours to help enhance safety and reduce electrical outages and wildfire risks."

But such efforts are now facing scrutiny from state regulators as Cal Fire investigates whether downed power lines started any of the North Bay fires that leveled more than 6,000 homes and businesses.

PG&E had long known that the biggest threat of a tree-caused electrical wildfire was in the North Bay.