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PG&E failure to replace 56 cent hook led to deaths of 85 people

I never met Beverly Powers.

By all accounts the 64-year-old was an amazing lady. Friends said she was witty, dingy, and fun to be with.

She spent much of her life as a nurse determined to not simply care for her patients but lift their spirits as well.

It was perhaps a natural progression for the Orange County native who graduated from San Clemente High where she was a cheerleader.

Powers was one of 85 people who died Nov. 8, 2018 in a fire that PG&E admits their equipment started.

As ironic as it may sound, PG&E has been given new life as a way for Wall Street hedge funds to drain the pockets of those 14,000 households that lost all of their possessions in the Camp Fire and are only getting dimes on the dollar for their financial losses from PG&E thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom opted to let his strong objections to the bankruptcy financing go to the way side due to the impact the pandemic is having on the bond market which could jeopardize what measly reimbursement more than 30,000 people directly victimized by PG&E will receive so they can try to get their lives back together.

But there is still a chance there will be justice for Beverly Powers, the other 84 people killed, 14,000 people who lost their homes, 5,000 businesses as well as churches and government agencies whose buildings were wiped out, and countless other people who suffered financially as the result of PG&E’s never ending quest to maximize profits at the expense of safety.

It all boils down to a 3-inch hook. It is the infamous “C-hook” that failed on Nov. 8, 2018 and sent a high-voltage power line crashing down to the ground sparking an inferno that nearly wiped the Town of Paradise off the face of the earth.

The “C-hook” in question was a badly worn piece of metal when it failed that day.

It was found by law enforcement who secured the crime scene before PG&E crews showed up.

That broken hook is now at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s forensic lab in Quantico, Va. It was sent there by Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey’s office. Ramsey is leading the criminal investigation into the deadly fire along with the California State Attorney General’s Office.

The outcome of the joint investigation will determine if PG&E — already on federal probation for felonies in connection with the company blowing up a San Bruno neighborhood on Sept. 9, 2010 that killed eight people — faces criminal charges in the Butte County Fire as well as some of their former executives.

The hook was purchased for 56 cents near the end of World War I.

Ramsey was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saving “they’re excellent hooks if you don’t leave them up in towers for 100 years.”

It was estimated by state investigators that 75 to 80 percent of the hook in question had worn away before it snapped.

This was not just a fluke.

PG&E in the aftermath of the Butte Fire re-inspected its transmission lines that it inspects every five years from the ground or from the air.

Unlike other times when it is likely either frontline PG&E personnel were net given adequate time and resources or their findings were ignored as their findings worked their way up the command chain assuming they weren’t buried along the way, PG&E actually climbed towers to look at hooks et al up close. They admitted publicly their inspection found thousands of the hooks that needed replacing due to corrosion and showing signs of wear. PG&E contends they have replaced the hooks that are roughly the size of a baseball that were found to be in the worst shape.

The rub in all this comes down to internal PG&E documents procured by the California Public Utilities Commission and inspected by the Wall Street Journal that shows the for-profit firm has known for a long time that a large number of its transmission towers had reached or exceeded their life expectancy.

The life expectancy of those transmission towers such as the ones that cuts a swath through Manteca is 65 years. A PG&E internal document produced in 2017 put the system wide age of its transmission towers at 68 years in average. These are towers in the PG&E system as old as 108 years.

Documents show that in 1987 engineers with PG&E detected worn hooks on the transmission line that sparked the inferno that killed 85 people. They asked for tests on two of the hooks showing wear on the line that was put into service in 1921.

When tested each hook failed at 11,500 pounds. The hooks are supposed to hold 30,000 pounds

A third hook that did not show any signs of being worn was tested after the original two worn hooks. It failed at 6,900 pounds.

The internal PG&E report indicated more of the hooks should be tested to ascertain their dependability.

Instead of replacing any of the hooks at that time, one of the hooks purchased as World War I was winding down failed 11 years later.

It is against that backdrop PG&E expects to have a net profit of $454 million this year. By 2024 they project to pocket a record $2.4 billion in profits.

They made a tad under $1.7 billion in 2017 before the end result of years of squeezing out every penny possible for profit by shortchanging equipment replacement and brush removal changed the lives of 70,000 plus people in Butte County forever.

And they will do it with rate increases over the next five years that overall will increase electricity costs 40 percent. That is money they need to do work they ignored over the years while earning big bucks that also includes the state guaranteeing they can have at least 10.5 percent of all the power collections they siphon out of the pockets of 16 million Californians to do the work. Hence, the projected record PG&E profits.

Bonnie & Clyde had it all wrong. They didn’t have to rob banks to steal money. All they needed to do was partner up with the California Public Utilities Commission. And if they happened to kill 85 people along the way the system will simply chock it up to the cost of doing business.

Unless, of course, a small Northern California district attorney standing up to PG&E and the state’s largest stand army of private lawyers secures justice for Beverly Powers and 84 others.