sanbrunofire.pipe.jpg The California Public Utilities Commission voted this morning to allow its president to authorize an increase in pressure on regional gas transmission lines in the event of extremely cold weather this winter.

Pressure in the pipelines that supply natural gas to more than a million customers in San Francisco and San Mateo counties was reduced by 20 percent following a rupture on Line 132, which ran beneath the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood in San Bruno before it ruptured on Sept. 9.

The resulting explosion and fire killed eight people, injured dozens more and damaged or destroyed at least 50 homes.

A resolution adopted by the CPUC at today’s meeting in San Francisco allows the pressure in those pipelines – including Line 132 – to be increased should abnormally low winter temperatures occur.

CPUC President Michael Peevey warned that if the weather gets extremely cold and the pressure is not increased, then some customers considered “non-core” customers – hospitals in particular – could lose natural gas service.

The pressure would be “at most a slight increase on Line 132” and would be authorized only after the CPUC has sought advice from a panel of natural gas industry experts established by the commission at a meeting on Oct. 14, Peevey said.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill addressed the CPUC this morning to voice his concern over whether increasing pipeline pressure can be achieved safely without further in-depth inspections.

Hill said his office will be looking into the possibility of changing the designation of medical centers as “non-core.”

“What disturbed me today is that 35 hospitals in San Francisco and San Mateo counties are considered ‘non-core’ customers,” Hill said. “How did they get there?”

At today’s meeting, the CPUC also adopted a resolution granting PG&E permission to pay utility bills for victims of the San Bruno fire.

For those San Bruno residents who were displaced by the fire, PG&E will pay utility bills at their current addresses as well as at their affected homes until January 2012, PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said.

PG&E will also pay the utility bills for those who have been able to return to their homes through the end of this year.

The bill relief will be funded by PG&E shareholders, Molica said, not its customers.

In a letter delivered to San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane on Wednesday, PG&E President Chris Johns said that the utility would not seek to rebuild the portion of Line 132 that exploded.

He said PG&E would find an alternative replacement route for the pipeline that would ensure that “residents on the Peninsula have access to safe, reliable natural gas.”

Chris Cooney, Bay City News

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