2008 Corporate Responsibility Report

How we are creating a smarter foundation for a sustainable future

Demonstrating Environmental Stewardship

With the help of 30 students from a local high school, we restored native creekside habitat at PG&E’s Pleasant Creek Underground Gas Storage Facility.

As one of California’s largest land owners, PG&E has a long history of responsible stewardship over lands and waters in some of the nation’s most precious and environmentally sensitive areas. PG&E’s lands and easements include coastline, watershed and forest properties across northern and central California, which cross varied landscapes and habitats—from desert to agriculture to riparian regions. We recognize that to be successful, we must work to deliver safe and reliable service to meet the state’s growing needs while protecting wildlife and other important natural resources.

Managing Our Hydro Operations

PG&E’s large hydroelectric system consists of 26 federally licensed projects, some of which date back to the early 20th century. While a vital source of clean, renewable energy for California, PG&E’s hydroelectric output has declined during three years of drought in California. Working collaboratively with leading climate experts, PG&E is carefully studying this issue as part of a broader risk management effort to develop climate change adaptation and mitigation plans.

As required by federal and state regulatory agencies, PG&E evaluates and mitigates the impact on natural resources that can be associated with our hydroelectric projects.

More than half of our licenses have been, or will be, up for renewal between 2000 and 2012, and we are taking this opportunity to identify and assess project-specific impacts, taking into consideration all beneficial uses, including conservation, fish and wildlife habitat protection and enhancement, recreational opportunities, preserving environmental quality and power generation. We have made it a priority to work collaboratively with stakeholders, including local community members, throughout the relicensing process to identify and agree on appropriate mitigation measures.

For example, to implement PG&E’s new 36-year license for the Pit 3, 4 and 5 Hydroelectric Project, we began working with resource agencies last year to secure the required permits for major modifications to flow release facilities at the project’s three dams. Once completed, these upgrades will enable PG&E to release more water to enhance approximately 22.5 miles of the Pit River. The higher instream flows, which are designed to benefit fish and their habitat, were developed collaboratively with state and federal resource agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders.

PG&E has also gone beyond regulatory requirements to protect salmon and steelhead populations at our hydroelectric projects, including a multi-year, collaborative partnership with CalTrout to develop a prioritized list of restoration actions in the Sacramento River basin. Once completed, the list will be used by PG&E, regulatory agencies and other stakeholders to guide future habitat enhancement efforts.

Given the critical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase supplies of renewable energy, we continue to look for additional sources of clean energy. In 2008, PG&E submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a license amendment that, if granted, will allow for construction of the new Britton Powerhouse, which would be the first new PG&E hydroelectric powerhouse in over 20 years. Located at the site of an existing PG&E dam on the Pit River, this small, 2.8 MW project will contribute toward PG&E’s renewable energy goals while maximizing the output of the existing hydroelectric facilities.

Responsible Stewardship of Wildlife and Other Natural Resources

As we upgrade and maintain our gas and electric facilities to meet customer needs, protecting threatened and endangered species and their habitats is critical.

PG&E’s Environmental Stewardship Program is designed to meet this challenge through improved planning, coordination and implementation of the company’s stewardship priorities and strategies. As part of the program, PG&E strives to avoid and minimize impacts to habitats and species wherever possible. If impacts cannot be avoided, we take a strategic approach to compensating for our impacts, working in partnership with local land trusts and land management organizations. As a result, we invest in parcels that contribute to larger landscape conservation goals and benefit a broad set of species, rather than focusing on smaller, separate parcels.

Highlights of 2008 activities include the following:

  • We began implementing our San Joaquin Valley operations and maintenance habitat conservation plan (HCP): PG&E received a 30-year permit for the San Joaquin Valley region from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game—the first in a series that will cover PG&E’s service area. Developed in collaboration with federal and state natural resource agencies, this innovative new permit will ensure we meet federal and state requirements for sensitive plants and animals protected under the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. It applies to operation and maintenance activities for PG&E gas and electric transmission and distribution facilities, as well as minor new construction.

    In 2008, we began implementing the HCP and trained more than 2,500 employees on the permit conditions and internal compliance processes and procedures. We also made significant progress toward additional regional HCPs, including one for the San Francisco Bay Area.

    Last year, PG&E also partnered with the Center for Natural Lands Management to purchase 309 acres of high-quality habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard and more than 60 other species in the San Joaquin Valley. Overall, as a result of our activities, PG&E will need to mitigate for 1,630 acres of anticipated temporary impacts and approximately 30 acres of permanent impacts over the life of the 30-year permit.
Protected and Restored Habitat1
 
 
2007
2008

Acres set aside and protected
 
148.1 acres
869 acres

Acres of restored habitat
 
103.6 acres
422 acres

Miles of stream and river riparian vegetation protected
 
16.5 miles
29.5 miles

1 PG&E undertook these activities to meet various regulatory requirements, with the exception of 75 acres of company-owned property that PG&E voluntarily restored in 2007.

  • We finalized our first “safe harbor” agreement: The presence of the Bay checkerspot butterfly, protected by law as a threatened species, made it challenging for PG&E to access and perform work on five vital transmission lines that cross Tulare Hill in Santa Clara County. PG&E voluntarily signed an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allowing us to safely maintain and operate the lines while enhancing butterfly habitat. The agreement is one of only five of its kind in California and 30 in the United States. PG&E is finalizing a similar agreement for a parcel in Contra Costa County, located adjacent to Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge.
  • We continued to collaborate with the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council to permanently protect more than 140,000 acres of PG&E-owned lands by donating conservation easements and/or ownership in the lands to public agencies or qualified conservation organizations. In 2008, the CPUC approved a streamlined process to expedite regulatory approval of the conservation easement and watershed land donations, with the first applications expected to be filed in 2010.

    Created in 2003 as part of the agreement with state regulators to settle PG&E’s bankruptcy, the Stewardship Council receives funding from PG&E in the amount of $10 million annually for 10 years. PG&E holds one seat on the Council’s Board of Directors.
Minimizing Environmental Impacts from Construction Activities

PG&E’s infrastructure can traverse unique and sensitive habitats. This requires us to take steps to avoid or minimize environmental impacts to these resources when we perform routine maintenance and construction activities, which can be a challenge.

As an example, last year, PG&E completed an important reconductoring project within the picturesque Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. The goal of the project was to replace 3.72 miles of outdated electrical distribution line to improve reliability and reduce the amount of unplanned emergency work in the area. The line, which served rural customers, dairy farms, a school and the historic Point Reyes lighthouse, had experienced increased outages related to conductor failure.

Because the construction area fell within designated critical habitat for the California red-legged frog and several other federal threatened or endangered plants and animals, PG&E took steps to avoid impacts to multiple sensitive species. We held on-site planning meetings, conducted comprehensive biological studies and scheduled the construction work in the dry season to avoid encountering amphibians. We also carefully planned access routes, equipment and material staging areas and work area locations, including “pull-sites” that are used to pull tension on newly installed wire.

By working closely and cooperatively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, PG&E was able to meet the aggressive construction schedule and address potential habitat and species impacts in an effective, responsible manner.

Protecting Birds

A PG&E crew installs a nest platform in Ione, California. Nest platforms reduce outages and are preferred by large birds, such as ospreys.

More than 300 species of migratory birds live in northern and central California, either permanently or during semi-annual migration along the “Pacific Flyway.” When birds seek out power lines for perching and various other uses, they can be electrocuted, which, in turn, can cause electric outages and fires. Birds can also collide with power lines while in flight.

For the past 25 years, PG&E has led various bird species conservation initiatives. In 2002, PG&E and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into an agreement that required PG&E to implement various measures to protect migratory, threatened and endangered birds. When this agreement expired in 2007, PG&E voluntarily adopted a proactive Avian Protection Plan that expands PG&E’s commitments in public outreach, collaborative research and “bird-safe” technology demonstration projects. This plan has set the standard for our industry and is one of the most comprehensive in the nation.

Since 2002, in compliance with the agreement, PG&E has retrofitted nearly 14,400 existing utility poles and towers with “bird-safe” equipment (see chart below). We have also retrofitted more than 13,800 poles in high-risk areas where bird injuries or fatalities have occurred previously, or where there have been bird-related power outages. All new poles and replacement poles in designated “Raptor Concentration Zones” are also built “bird-safe.”

Bird Protection Program (Bird-Safe Retrofits)
 
2006
2007
2008

Poles Planned
2,075
2,000
2,000

Poles Completed
2,117
2,000
2,169

% Poles Completed
102%
100%
108%

PG&E has pioneered cutting-edge practices such as using helicopters to help install special bird flight diverters in hard-to-reach coastal locations like the Central Coast, which is home to the endangered California condor. In 2008, we approved a new device, known as a transmission tower bridge guard, designed to improve reliability by reducing outages caused by bird waste on our equipment. PG&E is also installing nest platforms on utility poles in the Sierra Nevada region and throughout our service area to protect large birds, such as ospreys.

In 2009, we will use a new Avian Protection Plan video to train approximately 5,000 employees to ensure we comply with all federal and state bird protection laws and properly report and track all avian electrocutions or collisions. PG&E is also spearheading an effort to bring together utilities and wildlife agencies in the endangered California condor range. This unique collaboration will allow utilities to minimize impacts to condors in their isolated habitats in California, Arizona and Utah.

Forest Management and Habitat Restoration

Portable bridges give access for ground crews, company vehicles and state and local inspectors, minimizing long-term impacts.
Photo: Lewis Stewart

Research shows that aspen stands are capable of providing habitats for 55 mammal species and
135 bird species.

By practicing sustainable forestry on company-owned forest lands, PG&E is committed to creating healthier forests, which sequester more CO2 and are less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease. Key elements of PG&E’s sustainable forestry efforts include adopting resource protection and enhancement measures as part of all timber harvests, minimizing impacts with portable bridges, closing the loop by sending wood chips and other biomass to co-generation plants that generate renewable power for the state’s electricity grid and reforesting fire-damaged and brush-covered watershed lands.

Last year, PG&E began an initiative to help restore native aspen stands, working in partnership with the Aspen Delineation Institute, CalFire, the California Department of Fish and Game and other organizations. After conducting a targeted aspen inventory and management plan, PG&E initiated two restoration projects in the Sierra Nevada region—part of the Bucks and Lindsey timber harvests. At each site, PG&E manually and mechanically removed encroaching conifers from within and adjacent to aspen stands. To track the success of the restoration, PG&E initiated bird surveys and aspen tree counts, which will continue into the future. PG&E is also installing outdoor signage at both sites to highlight the importance of aspen for visitors.

PG&E also generated renewable energy from its timber harvest operations, sending more than 9,000 bone dry tons of wood chips to a biomass facility in 2008. To generate the “fuel,” PG&E selectively harvested approximately 2,390 acres, removing overstocked trees, tree limbs and tops and eliminating competition for healthier stands of trees.

Vegetation Management

PG&E actively promotes how to plant the “right tree in the right place”—reaching out to city agencies, homeowners and schoolchildren.

PG&E works every day to prune trees growing too close to power lines. Trees that conflict with our wires can cause fires, which can pose a risk to the public and lead to power outages. PG&E is required by law to keep the lines clear, and we perform this work while also taking steps to protect water and air quality, as well as endangered species and habitats. This includes training all PG&E and contractor personnel on best practices when working in and around environmentally sensitive areas.

For example, PG&E is required under the federal Endangered Species Act to protect the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle (VELB), which relies solely on elderberry shrubs for food, shelter and reproduction. These shrubs often grow within our natural gas and electric rights-of-way and need to be removed to maintain minimum distances between vegetation and high-voltage power lines, as required by law. PG&E’s VELB Conservation Program navigates the potential conflict between public safety and wildlife conservation laws.

Last year, to compensate for impacts to beetle habitats elsewhere, we permanently protected approximately 220 acres of high-quality beetle habitat, working in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and other organizations. PG&E protected 190 acres of existing riparian habitat along the Sacramento River and an additional 32 acres of agricultural land that will be restored to native habitat. Once restored, this land will become part of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge system.

Overall, PG&E removes or prunes approximately 1.5 million trees or brush each year on 133,000 miles of high-voltage overhead transmission and distribution lines to prevent trees from growing or falling into our power lines. Approximately 300 trained contractor utility arborists and foresters patrol every mile of line, which are then pruned by 1,500 Cal OSHA line clearance-qualified contractors.