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Powering Manteca
PG&E works on safety & reliability
PG&E electrical troubleshooter Marty Turney, left, works with corrosion mechanic Bill Belanski to improve Ripon natural gas pipeline safety. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Marty Turner has spent countless days and nights in driving rain and falling snow to keep the lights on and help power the Northern California economy.

The Manteca resident is a troubleshooter with Pacific Gas & Electric. He has spent 31 years making sure electricity keeps flowing while emphasizing safety for himself and his fellow workers as well as customers and the public.

And sometimes his job requires him to deal with 12,000 volt power lines arcing in 50 mph winds.

One such instance was the March 2010 storms that ravaged the Sierra. Turney and other PG&E workers spent 16 hour shifts working to restore power to homes that were without electricity for days.

“They (mountain residents) are so appreciative of what you do,” Turney said. “They often bring coffee out to the guys.”

And even though those in the valley experiencing power outages in high winds or extremely stormy weather may get a bit impatient compared to their high country counterparts, Turney doesn’t mind it.

“They expect to have electricity no matter what,” he said.

PG&E’s vast service territory includes the rugged North Coast, mountains, and desert, major urban areas such as San Jose and San Francisco, and the Central Valley. Everyday PG&E electrical and natural gas crews are conducting routine maintenance designed to keep energy flowing and ensure safety.

Natural gas pipeline safety is ongoing task

A typical day for Turney happened recently when he joined forces with a counterpart from PG&E’s natural gas division - corrosion mechanic Bill Belanski - to replace grounding apparatus in Ripon designed to use electricity to keep underground steel pipes from corroding.

It entails routing electricity down a pole and pipe buried below the ground. Years ago such work would have required shutting down power to nearby homes while the work was being done. Instead, the recent work in Ripon on two such safety projects took about an hour without any service interruption.

That is a credit to evolving technology and a commitment to safety.

PG&E workers are equipped with vehicles with onboard computers that allow them quickly to search records at sites they are sent to so they have a complete understanding of the system in place and where lines may be buried. It also tells them how many customers are impacted and a repertoire of other information that would have taken hours instead of seconds to secure in the days before onboard computers in PG&E trucks.

PG&E spokesperson Nicole Liebeldt noted the utility has re-emphasized safety of its system in the aftermath of the San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight and destroyed more than three dozen homes.

That’s not to say safety and upgrading of aging lines wasn’t underway before the explosion. One major natural gas transmission line running through rural South Manteca that made the list of lines that were considered in critical shape after the San Bruno explosion but actually was replaced months beforehand as part of PG&E’s ongoing  effort.

New CEO makes safety top priority for PG&E

PG&E’s new chief executive officer Anthony F. Earley has made pipeline and transmission safety the highest priority. He served as head of Michigan-based DTE Energy for more than a decade prior to his hiring by PG&E. Liebeldt noted that Earley has a lot of experiencing working with aging infrastructure and making sure it is kept updated and safe.

Earley is credited with building the company’s core businesses – Detroit Edison and Michigan Consolidated Gas Company – into two highly respected electric and natural gas operating companies, with strong performance on many of the industry’s key safety and reliability measures

In Manteca, there are 22 miles of natural gas distribution lines and 40 miles of natural gas transmission lines. That is in addition to the individual services that go to each customer’s meter.

In the three cities of Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon plus their surrounding areas - the territory that South San Joaquin Irrigation District is trying to takeover - there are 14,894 power poles.

“PG&E is responsible for maintaining everything on our side of the meter,” Liebeldt said of natural gas and electrical service.

Over the years PG&E has improved its substations serving the Manteca areas and has slowly replaced aging equipment. That has resulted in a drop off of power outages today compared to the early 1990s.

Still, Leibeldt said PG&E understands it still has work to do.

A corporate vice president recently traveled from San Francisco to do something no one has ever done from the PG&E board room - to listen to customers face-to-face. They got an earful from Ripon farmers to Manteca developers as well as others from surrounding communities

Liebeldt said PG&E is trying to take those concerns and improve its service whether it is doing construction related work in a timelier manner or enhancing agricultural power deliveries.

Turney, for his part, believes PG&E size gives it an advantage that many publically owned electrical concerns such as Modesto Irrigation, Turlock Irrigation, Lodi Electric, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Roseville Electric and others don’t have - manpower.

PG&E has 20,000 employees it can call on from Bakersfield to Oregon in an emergency. And while power companies have mutual aid that PG&E participates in, having a company that has the resources can make them more nimble in major outrages that are caused by the weather.

It is why Turney as a rank-and-file electrical worker believes PG&E is uniquely situated in such cases.

“I like to say you never know how good you have it until it is gone,” Turney said.

It is a reference to the possible acquisition of PG&E retail power system in Manetas, Ripon, and Escalon by SSJID should they get the green light to proceed in early 2012 from the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission .

SSJID has indicated it has the ability and the wherewithal to reduce power costs by 15 percent across the board compared to PG&E rates as well as to run a retail system. An independent report commissioned by LAFCo supports that contention.

Even if SSJID succeeds in taking over the retail system locally Belaski and Turney both said it won’t change PG&E’s commitment to safety and working with others in the business. They do similar natural gas line/electrical power safety projects as they finished recently in Ripon throughout Modesto and Turlock where they only provide natural gas service.

“We work real well with MID,” Belaski noted.

Both Turney and Belaksi point pointed out one of the best ways to keep homes save is to call 811 regarding where natural gas lines and electrical lines are buried.

Both noted trenching and digging that is done without locating underground lines is a big problem.

“Simply calling 811 can save you a lot of expense and problems,” Turney added.