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California Solar

California continues to be the leading solar market in the United States. A plethora of sunny days combined with supportive solar policies have created an ideal solar market. As older fossil-fired and nuclear generation plants (such as SONGS) come offline, statewide carbon reduction efforts escalate, and load growth increases (due, in part, to the anticipated increased deployment of electric vehicles), additional renewable energy procurement will be required within California. These factors, as well as changing consumer behaviors related to electricity production and delivery, offer substantial opportunities to continue to grow the solar energy market in California.

Click here to download the fact sheet.

Facts on the California Solar Industry

California installed more solar in 2014 than the entire country did from 1970-2011.
  • There are currently more than 2,262 solar companies at work throughout the value chain in California,employing 54,700 people.
  • In 2014, California installed 4,316 MW of solar electric capacity, ranking it 1st nationally.
  • The 11,535 MW of solar energy currently installed in California ranks the state first in the country in installed solar capacity.  There is enough solar energy installed in the state to power 2,891,000 homes.
  • In 2014, $11.773 billion was invested on solar installations in California.  This represents a 66% increase over the previous year, and is expected to grow again this year.
  • Average installed residential and commercial photovoltaic system prices in California have fallen by 5% in the last year.  National Prices have also dropped steadily- by 6% from last year and 53% from 2010.

View more solar industry data.

2014 Legislative Update

Solar Property Tax Exclusion Extended

In July, Governor Brown signed SB 871 which extends the existing solar property tax exclusion until January 1, 2025. The continuation of this policy will allow homeowners and businesses to install solar energy without a reassessment of their property taxes. In addition, extension of the exclusion will enable California utilities to achieve their renewable energy targets at a lower cost to ratepayers.

SEIA California State Solar Policy Priorities

  • Encourage policies promoting robust penetration of customer-sited and wholesale distributed generation to help meet the Governor’s 12 GW goal.
  • Establish a favorable net energy metering successor tariff (NEM 2.0) that ensures robust market growth.
  • Protect and expand residential and commercial utility rate design which encourages deployment of customer-sited solar energy.
  • DEnable access to solar energy to ratepayers who otherwise would not have had such access, such as apartment tenants and low‐income customers.

Notable Solar Installations in California

  • Desert Sunlight was completed in 2015 by developer First Solar.  This photovoltaic project has the capacity to generate 550 MW of electricity — enough to power over 160,000 California homes.
  • Several large retailers in California have gone solar, including Walgreens, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart and IKEA. Campbell’s Soup has installed one of the largest corporate photovoltaic systems in the state with 2,300 kW of solar capacity at their location in Sacramento.
  • At 250 MW, Mojave Solar is among the largest solar installations in California. Completed in 2014 by Abengoa, this concentrating solar power project has enough electric capacity to power more than 61,000 homes.

See our solar installations maps.

Solar Companies in California

There are currently more than 2,262 solar companies at work throughout the value chain in California.  These companies provide a wide variety of solar products and services ranging from solar system installations to the manufacturing of components used in photovoltaic panels.  These companies can be broken down across the following categories: 413 manufacturers, 86 manufacturing facilities, 1027 contractor/installers, 146 project developers, 159 distributors and 524 engaged in other solar activities including financing, engineering and legal support.

Agriculture Solar Energy Dairy Project

Agriculture Solar™ energy agricultural dairy farm projects handle operations for thousands of head cow dairies, and without sacrificing acres of farmland.The sun heats the hot water heating system and creates solar energy power on dairiesThe sun heats the hot water heating system and creates solar energy power on dairies. Clients from around the world are able to see new photovoltaic solar panels and solar thermal tubes that make their dairy project a “solar-powered milk farm.”

Agriculture Solar™ dairy project“It was really a no-brainer thing,” said Agriculture Solar™ dairy project customers, operators, and owners of family operations. “If we choose to buy the system outright, it will be all done paying for itself in just a few years. Or, we have the choice to purchase the electricity with no money down and low maintenance, in the Agriculture Solar 0% Down Lease.”

Many dairy operators are content to rely on the utility grid for their power, are used to running water wells, milking machines and other equipment for daily dairy farm management. However, Agriculture Solar dairy customers want to take the idea of self-sufficiency to a different level with their Agriculture Solar™ energy power, hot water system, combined with LED light systems and heat-recovery off of refrigeration system.

dairy farming milk production powered by solarFor customers who need the bottom line to pencil out. It does. Agriculture Solar allows you to lock in savings and incentives in 7-10 year lease agreement, when they were especially favorable for dairy farming milk production. Agriculture Solar™ financing is enthusiastic about providing their financing to large projects that generate the majority of a dairy’s annual electricity, hot water, and gas cost needs.

Agriculture Solar™ SystemThe whole Agriculture Solar™ System is designed to come close to, but not exceed, your annual electricity power demand. Under most existing laws, you can’t sell surplus power to your utility company. Agriculture Solar’s team of engineering do a completesite analysis and feasibility study for each dairy project to find the best renewable energy package for you.

solar dairy system generates powerAgriculture Solar customers verify that the agricultural solar energy dairy project cost nothing out of pocket to build the system. Dairies really likes about it when the solar dairy system generates power during the hottest part of the day, when they would otherwise be paying the highest electricity and gas rates.

Agriculture Solar Energy“The main thing I look forward to each month is cutting my power bill,” an Agriculture Solar Energy customer said. “We can predict our electricity and gas costs for the next couple of decades, so as the utility company raises the rates, we save more and more. Everybody says, they want to go green. For me, It has to pencil out. It does.”

Agriculture Solar Energy Dairy ProjectsAgriculture Solar™ Energy Dairy Projects envision even more self-sufficiency in future dairy industry daily operations. For example, dairy owners and operators look at their manure and could see the potential for capturing methane and using it to run their diesel-powered vehicles, and also put it in an Agriculture Solar™ Biomass Digester. And large scale solarenergy power storage is also an option that can create a dozen more revenue streams for the dairies’ owner and operators.

“Dairies by nature are do-it-yourselfers. We like doing our own thing,” Agriculture Solar Energy dairy customers share.


Drones for Safety | FAA Pathfinder Milestone

Commercial UAV News
Much of this week’s newsletter has to do with the use of drones to improve safety, including the first ever inspection of a cargo oil tank on an operational FPSO, mining company Fortescue’s use of drones for stockpile measurement, and the notion of using drones for avalanche control. We also cover the groundbreaking flight by Boeing subsidiary Insitu to inspect a 132-mile stretch of BNSF’s rail lines in the national airspace in New Mexico as part of the FAA Pathfinder initiative.

Commercial UAV Expo 2015 exhibitors Trimble and Pix4D are mentioned in this week’s round-up. Returning exhibitors get first dibs for booking space at the 2016 show that will take place Oct 31 – Nov 2 in Las Vegas. After November 13th, the floor opens up to new companies. Learn more about exhibiting at the 2016 show here.

First ROAV Inspection of Cargo Oil Tank on Operational FPSO

Cyberhawk Innovations completed its first ever ROAV inspection of a cargo oil tank on an operational FPSO. The world-first took place on board the Gryphon FPSO, owned and operated by Maersk Oil.

Fortescue Using Drones For Stockpile Surveying, Mitigating Risk for Surveyors

Fortescue trialed a number of UAVs at Cloudbreak to perform stockpile volume and topographic surveys before purchasing a Trimble UX5 with Pix4D software.

Using Drones for Avalanche Control Would Improve Safety

The concept of dropping sticks of dynamite from drones near a ski resort is guaranteed to give OSHA second thoughts. But considering the way things are currently done, armed drones would be a serious safety improvement.

bizUAS Demonstrates Power Line Inspection Using a Drone

bizUAS was one of six teams across North America selected to give a live presentation on the inspection of energized power structures to representatives of the North American electric power industry.

Small Drone Makes Its Own Maps to Navigate Indoors | MIT Technology Review

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have demonstrated a small drone that can build its own 3-D map of an unfamiliar environment and then plan its own routes around a space.

Boeing Subsidiary Using Drone to Inspect BNSF Rail Line

The Boeing Company’s unmanned aircraft subsidiary Insitu is flying a small surveillance drone to inspect rail line for BNSF Railway as part of the FAA’s Pathfinder initiative.


SolSystems Analyses The Prospects For Bankable Opportunities Looking Up To 2017

Over the years, a noticeable industry trend in overabundance of interested capital has been chasing a shortage of bankable opportunities in the fragmented commercial and small utility-scale sector. While there are still a number of investors out there chasing the same projects, the pendulum is finally starting to swing; project supply is on the uptick.

A number of factors are leading to this shift: a maturing market with more origination channels, a greater number of state markets with acceptable project economics and volume, investors accepting lower returns, and more repeat deals among parties allow projects to be closed and deployed faster than ever. On top of it all is the race to December 31, 2016 and the effect that’s having on project supply.

Despite this uptick in project pipeline, not all deals will complete the race.

One key to ensuring that pipeline makes it to the finish line will be the amount of tax efficient capital ready and willing to get teams moving quickly to deploy capital and close deals. Developers, beware of the bottleneck with equipment suppliers, but also your financing partner’s ability to diligence projects and close in a timely manner.

To ensure that your project is prioritized over others in a financier’s queue, keep in mind that investors will prefer projects that are further along in the development cycle where the host has already agreed to lock into a financeable PPA, or the PPA is largely negotiated, if not already executed. Investors will also prioritize larger projects, or projects with other pipeline behind them. Some projects may also take precedence over others when there is a strategic reason to favor the host (e.g. a high profile brand), or if they have stronger return profiles.

When racing to the end of 2016, do not think of December 31 as your deadline. Give yourself an August 2016 cutoff date to get everything closed, and plan for blips that may lead to delays in either closing or construction. As always, the winners in solar project development are those who plan ahead, and plan for bumps along the way.

Sol Systems is a solar energy finance and investment firm. The company has facilitated financing for 333MW solar projects on behalf of Fortune 100 corporations, insurance companies, utilities, banks, family offices, and individuals. Sol Systems provides secure, sustainable investment opportunities to investor clients, and sophisticated project financing solutions to developers.

The company’s tailored financial services range from tax structured investments and project acquisition, to debt financing and SREC portfolio management. Inc. Magazine named Sol Systems on its annual Inc. 500 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies for a second consecutive year, ranking it No. 6 in the nation’s top solar companies in 2014.

Published here by the PVBUZZ team from the original article written and edited for publication on SolSystems by Sara Rafalson.


SunEdison Fails To Complete LatAm Takeover – Report

SeeNews Renewables — SunEdison Inc (NYSE:SUNE) is not going to complete its previously announced takeover of Latin American Power (LAP), The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported, citing officials from both parties.

SunEdison had failed to make a USD-400-million (EUR 355.9m) upfront cash payment as part of the acquisition, which is reportedly valued at USD 700 million in total. This has led to LAP walking away from the deal.

A SunEdison representative confirmed the outcome to WSJ, but blamed the failure to close the transaction on LAP owners, who, according to the spokesperson, did not meet certain conditions.

SunEdison agreed to buy LAP in May for an undisclosed sum. The business then held hydro and wind power projects in Peru and Chile. LAP is owned by Brazilian investment bank BTG Pactual SA and Patria Investimentos.

The failure to wrap up the takeover comes after a series of not-so-happy developments for SunEdison. The company announced on Monday it plans to reduce its global workforce by roughly 15% in a bid to optimise business operations.

Since July, SunEdison has lost over two-thirds of its market cap.

About SeeNews Renewables
SeeNews Renewables provides business news and intelligence for the renewable energy industry worldwide

Where The World’s First Entirely Solar-Powered Airport Has Been Unveiled

Over the next 25 years, the new power system is expected to save 300,000 tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of planting three million trees

Cochin International Airport in the southern Indian state of Kerala becamethe world’s first entirely solar-powered airport on Tuesday, unveiling a new system that will make the airport “absolutely power neutral,” according to a statement released by the parent company.

The airport’s solar power plant, which is comprised of more than 46,000 solar panels arrayed across 45 acres of land, will produce 48,000 units of energy per day, the Economic Times reports.



Republicans resume efforts to stop CO2 rules

Washington, 4 August (Argus) — Congressional Republicans are vowing to block new CO2 regulations for power plants, but their efforts face long odds given the high vote tally needed to overcome a presidential veto.

As the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its Clean Power Plan yesterday, Republican leaders were promising to resume their efforts to prevent the regulations from ever taking effect, or at least to delay them for several years.

The US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee tomorrow will take up legislation to extend the Clean Power Plan’s compliance deadlines until after the courts have a chance to review the program. The bill by senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) would also give governors the authority to opt-out of the Clean Power Plan if they determine that complying would harm their state’s ratepayers or over grid reliability concerns alone. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill in May.

“Now that this rule is finalized, the need for congressional action is even more apparent,” Capito said.

But these efforts face high hurdles. The Republican-controlled House can easily pass any legislation with little or no Democratic support. But Republicans, who hold 54 seats in the Senate, would need to win significant backing from across the aisle to clear the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster or the 67 votes to override a certain veto from President Barack Obama. At least three Democrats, senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, have expressed varying degrees of opposition to the regulations over the past year. Manchin is the lone Democratic co-sponsor of the Capito bill.

If enacted, either bill could push back compliance by three or more years as the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over challenges to EPA regulations, and then possibly the US Supreme Court, review the regulations. More than a dozen states have already said they intend to file suits in the DC Circuit. Those suits would likely be filed once the Clean Power Plan is published in the Federal Register.

The plan requires states to meet CO2 emissions targets by 2030, with reductions to start in 2022. States must submit final compliance plans to EPA by September 2018, with initial plans due in September 2016.

The Capito legislation is just one option available to congressional opponents of the regulations. Republicans have also included restrictions in fiscal year 2016 spending bills that have yet to clear Congress. And the formal publication of the rules will give Republicans another legislative tool, a little-used law called the Congressional Review Act. It essentially allows Congress to veto new executive branch regulations.

But it has been successfully employed only once, despite more than 40 previous attempts under the act to block various regulations since 1996, according to the Government Accountability Office. One of those failed efforts occurred in 2010, when the Senate defeated a resolution to overturn EPA’s first steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.


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Largest Dual Axis Tracker Project

Mortenson to Construct One of the World’s Largest Dual-Axis Solar Projects for OCI Solar Power

Mortenson announced construction of the Alamo 6 Solar project for OCI Solar Power. Located in Pecos County, Texas, the 110-MWac utility-scale solar project is one of the largest of its kind in the world and will generate enough renewable energy for approximately 60,000 households per year once it’s operational in 2016.
The Alamo 6 project is the 35th utility-scale solar project Mortenson has built in the U.S. and is the fourth Mortenson has built for OCI Solar Power. Mortenson is serving as the full service engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor on the project, while OCI Solar Power is the project developer, owner and operator.
The project utilizes the Sun Action Dual-Axis Tracker system and crystalline modules by Mission Solar. Each tracker contains 42 modules, totaling nearly 430,800 modules for the entire site. Mortenson will employ approximately 250 craft workers during construction.
Alamo 6 Solar Foundations
“The strong growth of solar power and the technological advancements of the industry is amazing,” said Trent Mostaert, vice president and general manager at Mortenson. “The price of utility-scale solar continues to fall and we are seeing increasing grid parity with other energy sources across the U.S.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, output from solar power facilities around the country more than doubled last year. More than three dozen utility-scale solar projects came online in the first quarter totaling 304 MW of capacity. The U.S. now has more than 11,300 MW of installed, large-scale solar power.
Mortenson is currently ranked as the third largest EPC firm for U.S. utility-scale solar, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The company is also the leading wind energy contractor in North America.

Patchwork of Oversight Keeps Tabs on California’s Vast Oil Pipeline Network

Beach cleanup crew members work to cleanup oil from the beach at Refugio State Beach, Calif., May 22, 2015. The oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean from a broken on-land pipeline impacted the coasts and maritime environment north of Santa Barbara. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

Beach cleanup crew members work to cleanup oil from the beach at Refugio State Beach, Calif., May 22, 2015. The oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean from a broken on-land pipeline impacted the coasts and maritime environment north of Santa Barbara. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)










The pipeline that ruptured on May 19, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean, runs right through Santa Barbara County on its way to refineries in the Central Valley. Yet the county has no regulatory authority over it.

“Our county actually had very strict regulations, but then they lost their jurisdiction over this pipeline,” explained Environmental Defense Center chief counsel Linda Krop during a seaside news conference shortly after the spill.  “They were robbed of the ability to monitor this pipeline the last 20 years. The federal regulations are much weaker.”

The company that used to operate the pipeline sued Santa Barbara County in the late 1980s. The oil firm claimed the county didn’t have the authority to impose regulations because the pipeline — now operated by Plains All American Pipeline — crosses county and federal territory.

For example, Santa Barbara County requires major oil pipelines to be outfitted with automatic shutoff valves. Federal regulators do not require them, so the Plains pipeline didn’t have one.

But the feds do require pipeline operators to undergo regular inspections. Those can include everything from looking for surface erosion on pipes to drug testing of workers. A company may also have its own internal inspection schedule.

The Plains All American pipeline is on a five-year federal inspection cycle. That’s about standard, says John Stoody, from the Association of Oil Pipelines, an industry trade group based in Washington, D.C.

Members of the International Bird Rescue clean an oiled brown pelican in the aftermath of last week’s oil spill along the Santa Barbara County coast.
Members of International Bird Rescue clean an oiled brown pelican in the aftermath of May 19 oil spill along the Santa Barbara County coast. (courtesy of International Bird Rescue)

“A minimum of every five years the operator must evaluate that pipeline, consider the different threats, conduct inspections,” says Stoody. “And then based on the risks, go out and perform maintenance on those pipelines before they become a problem.”

The inspection process is kind of like getting a smog check for your car. A pipeline operator hires a private inspection firm that specializes in that kind of thing. Technicians then runs the pipeline through a battery of  tests and submits the results to the pipeline boss, who then hands over the data to government regulators.

“On top of that, you will have regulators, whether it’s the federal government or a state agency that comes out and inspects an operator, inspects the pipeline, their paperwork for the integrity, the safe operation,” Stoody says

The state of California has a pipeline inspection team, too. It’s a branch of the state fire agency Cal Fire. But the team is small, just a handful of inspectors and engineers.

“Yeah, we’ve been working with minimum staff for a number of years,” says California’s director of pipeline safety, Bob Gorham. “We have three full-time engineers and a couple part-time inspectors.”

They share oversight duties with federal inspectors on some 5,000 miles of pipelines across California.

Gorham says that because his staff is so small, inspections are prioritized based on each pipeline operator’s overall track record.

“And we work very closely with the federal government on the pipeline to try and determine what type of inspections and who to inspect,” he says.

Until a couple years ago, Gorham’s crew also had primary oversight of the Plains pipeline that ruptured and sullied the Santa Barbara County coastline.

But because of that staffing shortage, inspection duties on that and hundreds of miles of other pipelines were turned over to federal regulators a couple of years ago.

“And that is a problem nationwide,” says Samya Lutz, of the oil industry watchdog group the Pipeline Safety Trust. “Often the federal government or states will train pipeline inspectors. And once they’re trained up, they might just stay for a year or two before they’re picked off by the industry. Because the industry can typically afford to pay a lot more for those types of jobs.”

But starting salaries for state pipeline inspectors and engineers are set to increase this summer, says Gorham. His department, with field offices in Bakersfield and in the Long Beach area, aims to add about half a dozen additional engineers and inspectors in the coming months.

And California could reclaim pipeline oversight duties that it was forced to hand over over to federal regulators.


Steven is the California Report’s Los Angeles bureau chief. He reports on an array of issues across the Southland, from immigration and regional politics to religion, the performing arts and pop culture. Prior to joining KQED in 2012, Steven covered Inland southern California for KPCC in Pasadena. He also helped establish the first newsroom at KUT in Austin, Texas where he was a general assignment reporter. Steven has received numerous awards for his reporting including an RTNDA Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting in addition to awards from the LA Press Club, the Associated Press and the Society for Professional Journalists. Steven grew up in and around San Francisco and now lives in Pasadena just a short jog from the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

State Probing PG&E Safety Program After Concerns Raised About Potential Explosions

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 30:  A hard hat sits on the ground at a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) work site on July 30, 2014 in San Francisco, California. A federal grand jury has added 27 new charges, including obstruction of justice, the criminal case against Pacific Gas and Electric for the 2010 fatal natural gas explosion in San Bruno, California. The new indictment charges PG&E with felonies and replaces a previous indictment of 12 charges related to the utility's safety practices.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The state is investigating a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. safety program — a probe initiated after a member of Congress flagged a potential “safety threat that could lead to explosions,” KQED has learned.

The probe by the California Public Utilities Commission concerns “cross bores,” which occur when an underground natural gas line pierces another utility line — usually a sewer line — below the soil surface. Cross bores can result when work crews use an installation technique that doesn’t involve digging a trench, which means they can’t see whether pipeline damage has occurred.

These unintended pipe intersections might go undetected for years without causing a problem. But some Bay Area cities have recently partnered with utility companies to launch repair efforts out of concern that they are dangerous.

“There’s always the risk for gas explosions,” said Tyrone Jue, a spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, when asked about the safety hazard. “The [sewer] laterals would act like a vent, such that if there was a gas leak on that line, the gas could go up that lateral,” potentially traveling into a home or office space.

This could happen if a line was damaged, triggering a gas leak.

There have been 18 accidents resulting from cross-boring in the United States since 2002, according to the Gas Technology Institute. Mike Bruce, president of the Cross Bore Safety Association, said that’s likely “an understated number.”

But it’s impossible to know, because the Department of Transportation’sPipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration does not specifically track cross-bore accidents.

“You should be concerned, but not irrationally concerned because this is a fixable problem,” said Bruce. “It’s going to take many years to get this done, because we’ve spent decades putting them in.”

Congresswoman Flags Safety Issue

In July 2014, Rep. Jackie Speier contacted the CPUC, flagging potential “deficiencies” in a PG&E program created to identify and repair cross bores. An email reference to her letter was buried among more than 65,000 emails included in some 123,000 documents PG&E was forced to release due to a lawsuit after the fatal 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

Performed by utility contractors, PG&E’s cross-bore safety program entailed reaching out to individual property owners and running cameras through underground pipes, to be followed by any needed repairs.

Speier (D-San Mateo) confirmed to KQED that she had contacted the CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division.

“Allegations were brought to my attention that testing was sometimes done by unqualified personnel, that test results from some addresses may have been falsified or addresses slated for testing were eliminated without supporting evidence,” Speier explained in an email to KQED. “These allegations suggested that deficiencies in the program were potentially a safety threat that could lead to explosions.”

Emails in July 2014 between a CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division official and PG&E — in response to Speier’s concerns –indicated that a CPUC investigator would be initiating contact with the utility. But the findings of this probe have yet to be disclosed.

Speier’s letter to the CPUC contained an excerpt from a June 17, 2013, email between apparent contractors that had been shared with her office.

“There are a large number of addresses with potential cross bores [that were] never inspected,” says the excerpted email cited in Speier’s letter.

The unnamed author requests PG&E involvement, noting, “I just don’t want to be asked the question of why an assigned address wasn’t inspected AFTER a cross bore in an uninspected address blows up. This is a very real and dangerous potential; in my humble perspective as an inspector in this program.”

The “large number of addresses” referenced in the June 2013 email provided by the whistleblower were slated for inspection in 2012.

CPUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon told KQED that the state investigation began in July 2014. “Whistleblower complaints are always screened for immediate safety concerns and then assigned to an investigator, in this case in our Safety and Enforcement Division,” she said. “The investigation includes fact-gathering, code compliance and sufficient corrective actions as warranted by the specific case.”

She added: “We cannot comment further until the investigation is completed.”

PG&E responded to calls with a written statement saying that: “As part of our commitment to the safety of our customers and the communities we serve, PG&E has deployed a comprehensive program to prevent, identify and repair cross bores throughout our natural gas system. We hold our employees and contractors to high standards and maintain a rigorous quality control process for this work. We are committed to cooperating fully with any reviews by our regulators.”

PG&E is facing criminal negligence charges for violating pipeline safety laws and obstructing justice in the case of the San Bruno transmission pipeline explosion, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in September 2010. And two related investigations, one federal and state, focus on  alleged improper communications with utility executives.

Cross-Bore Explosions Can Be Deadly

On Aug. 29, 1976, an explosion and fire destroyed a house in Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing Cletus Weston, 60, and his son, David, 26. Four other people were injured and two adjacent houses were also damaged.

Earlier that morning the Weston family had called a sewer cleaning company to remove a blockage. The cleaner inserted an auger into a 6-inch sewer lateral. But the auger struck and ruptured a 2-inch plastic gas main, even though the home was not served by natural gas. Quickly, gas flowed into the house through the sewer system and an explosion occurred.

Later, the National Transportation Safety Board disclosed that the gas main had been installed by boring through the sewer lateral — a cross bore. The explosion prompted the NTSB to issue a series of recommendations, including that “inspections [should be made] …. where gas mains and sewer laterals may be in proximity.”

But it took decades, and more explosions, for many municipalities and utilities to begin searching for cross bores.

Cross Bores Discovered In Bay Area

According to documents from PG&E, there have been five “near hits” in San Francisco and the Peninsula since 2012 in which cross bores were damaged and gas was released. But they were fixed before any property damage occurred.

Workers found 24 cross bores within four city blocks in Palo Alto, according to a document cited by PG&E and presented at the Northeast Gas Association. The City Council approved $3.8 million in 2011 to inspect sewer laterals and make repairs.

Example of a cross bore.
Example of a cross bore. (Courtesy Cross Bore Safety Association)

In San Francisco, Tyrone Jue noted that the SFPUC, the agency tasked with maintaining city sewer lines, was largely unaware of cross bores until its street crews uncovered them during routine maintenance.

“[PG&E] had been doing the trenchless pipeline installation for a while, prior to us finding out about it,” he said.

PG&E later provided data suggesting that there were about 1,000 locations in the city where cross bores had occurred.

But a complaint filed against PG&E by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera suggests that there could be even more. “PG&E has identified thousands of additional locations where PG&E’s cross-bores might have caused damage to city sewer laterals,” Herrera’s June 6, 2013, complaint noted.

Both Jue and Deputy City Attorney Theresa Mueller assured KQED that the problem was in the process of being addressed, both through a formal agreement between the city and the utility and through repairs, performed either by PG&E or SFPUC.

“A vast majority of them have already been fixed,” Jue explained. However, “There are some that are still remaining.” Meanwhile, cost recovery for damage to sewer lines is still the subject of litigation.

The city made repairs to nearly 100 locations where sewer pipes were damaged by gas lines, incurring more than $1.2 million in costs.

Efforts to Raise Awareness About Cross Bores

PG&E has issued tens of thousands of brochures to sewer districts, public works agencies, plumbers and equipment rental stores to raise awareness about cross-bore safety concerns.

Nationwide, public safety programs stress that property owners should be aware of the potential safety hazard caused by cross bores.

“OK, someone’s sewer or toilet is backing up. Normally they just call the plumber. Now they’re saying, call the gas company first to make sure there’s not a cross bore,” said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust.

Before you or your plumber perform a repair to a sewer line outside of your foundation, call 811.

Palo Alto’s Mayor Youth Video Corp made the video below about cross bores.



Rebecca Bowe is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s covered Bay Area news since 2009, and previously served as News Editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Follow her on Twitter @ByRebeccaBowe.