PG&E pledges to regain trust

  • Christopher Johns, President of PG&E, in an editorial board meeting at the Press Democrat, April 13, 2011.

A top PG&E official vowed Wednesday that the utility would improve its handling of several controversial issues and seek to earn back the trust of its customers.

PG&E President Chris Johns called 2010 "an extremely challenging, if not the most challenging year for PG&E."

The utility giant was rocked by the September pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. Federal officials are investigating the blast, and critics have called for a wider inquiry into the upkeep of the company's 6,700 miles of pipeline.

A PG&E program to install SmartMeter devices in millions of homes across the state, and an unsuccessful ballot measure that would have limited the formation of public power agencies, also have faced heated public criticism.

In an interview with The Press Democrat's editorial board, Johns said the company would improve its cooperation with communities in the hopes of overhauling its public image.

"We're not in the position to have our customers grant us trust," he said. "We have to earn it."

Ensuring the safety of gas pipelines is the company's top priority, he said.

PG&E is inspecting the lines, testing and reducing pressure on some, and replacing about 150 miles of the network, Johns said. A short stretch of that pipeline is in Sonoma off Fremont Drive, a PG&E spokeswoman said. She did not have the exact mileage.

Johns defended the utility's introduction of SmartMeters, digital devices that he said would help customers monitor their power usage and save money on their utility bills.

About 7.7 million of the planned 10 million meters have been installed statewide, with about 80 percent of installations now complete in Sonoma County, Johns said.

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