Demonstrating Environmental Stewardship

When building the new 2 MW Vaca-Dixon Solar Station, we worked closely with natural resource agencies and environmental groups to avoid impacts to the local population of Swainson’s hawk, a state threatened species. We located the solar panels on previously disturbed land, conducted comprehensive biological studies and scheduled construction work outside of the nesting season. Photo courtesy of Jerry Liguori
As one of California’s largest land owners, PG&E has a long history of managing lands and waters in a responsible and environmentally sensitive manner. We recognize that as we upgrade and maintain gas and electric facilities to meet customer needs, protecting threatened and endangered species and their habitats is critical.

Our Environmental Stewardship Program is working to address this challenge—navigating the right balance between delivering safe and reliable service to meet the state’s growing energy needs while protecting wildlife and other important natural resources.

As an example, we finalized our second “safe harbor” agreement last year, which enables PG&E crews to safely maintain and operate important transmission lines in Contra Costa County while enhancing habitat for three species that are found nowhere else in the world: the Lange's metalmark butterfly, the Antioch Dunes evening primrose and the Contra Costa wallflower. The voluntary agreement is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for PG&E property adjacent to the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge.


Expand All | Collapse All

Protected and Restored Habitatmore...

PG&E protected and restored nearly 230 acres of habitat and more than 24 miles of stream and river riparian vegetation last year.

Protected and Restored Habitat

1 PG&E undertook these activities to meet various regulatory requirements, with the exception of 75 and 2.5 acres of company-owned property that PG&E voluntarily restored in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

An Innovative Strategy for Protecting Habitat and Speciesmore...

Through Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP), PG&E is taking a strategic approach to maintaining our operations in a way that avoids, minimizes and mitigates impacts to plants and animals protected under the federal and state Endangered Species Acts. Approved by federal and state natural resource agencies, the plans are an extension of our commitment to reliably and efficiently serve customers and protect the environment.

The HCPs allow PG&E to continue to access and maintain facilities in a timely manner, avoiding schedule delays associated with acquiring individual, project-by-project permits for threatened and endangered species.

Last year, PG&E continued to implement its 30-year permit for the San Joaquin Valley region. Key activities included training more than 1,000 employees, conducting biological surveys and submitting an annual report on our efforts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.

We also acquired nearly all of the first five years' required mitigation credits for the San Joaquin Valley HCP, including a 40-acre site in Mariposa County that contains habitat for the limestone salamander and a 10-acre conservation easement with the Audubon Society to expand the Kern River Preserve to enhance nesting conditions for the tri-colored blackbird.

We also continued to make progress on developing six additional HCPs, each covering a different region with different wildlife and plant species, as well as tailored operational activities specific to the geographic area.

The next HCP will be for the Bay Area and will cover 38 wildlife and 58 plant species over a nine-county region. We will then develop HCPs for five other regions concurrently, ensuring a standard and consistent approach.

Making Smart Investments in Landscape Conservation

Click image to enlarge
PG&E strives to avoid and minimize impacts to habitats and species wherever possible. If impacts cannot be avoided, we work in partnership with local land trusts and land management organizations to compensate appropriately, as required by law. While this mitigation is required, doing so in concert with broader conservation goals is voluntary. Typically, our strategy is to invest in parcels that contribute to larger landscape conservation goals and benefit a broad set of species, rather than focusing on smaller, separate parcels.

This map shows areas where we have invested in habitat restoration as part of our San Joaquin Valley Habitat Conservation Plan, totaling nearly 420 acres.

Collaborating with the Stewardship Councilmore...

Photo of hiking trails at Kennedy Meadows, a site open to public recreation since 1917. The Stewardship Council has recommended that PG&E donate its 240-acre site at Kennedy Meadows as part of a broader effort to permanently protect more than 140,000 acres of company-owned lands.
Photo courtesy of The Stewardship Council.
We continue to collaborate with the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council to permanently protect more than 140,000 acres of PG&E-owned lands—encompassing some of California's most beautiful wilderness landscapes. We are donating conservation easements and/or ownership in the lands to public agencies or qualified conservation organizations to enhance or preserve numerous beneficial uses: natural habitat for wildlife, fish and plants; open space; sustainable forestry; agriculture; outdoor recreation by the public and historical values.

In 2009, PG&E and the Stewardship Council reached a significant milestone by identifying the first grantees to receive conservation interests in the 240-acre site at Kennedy Meadows. This area is home to the Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station, which has been open for public recreation since 1917 and is a trailhead to the Emigrant Wilderness for backpacking, fishing and horseback riding.

At an elevation of 6,500 feet, the site also includes habitat for sensitive wildlife species such as the mountain yellow-legged frog, Yosemite toad and great gray owl—as well as herds of Stanislaus mule deer. The Stewardship Council has recommended that PG&E donate the lands to the County of Tuolumne and grant a conservation easement to the Motherlode Land Trust.

PG&E and the Stewardship Council also continued to connect disadvantaged kids with the outdoors. Since 2007, the Stewardship Council has provided nearly $7 million to 180 organizations, enabling more than 115,000 kids in PG&E's service area to enjoy outdoor experiences ranging from camping in urban parks to sea kayaking with environmental educators.

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.

Protecting Birdsmore...

More than 300 species of migratory birds live in northern and central California, either permanently or during semi-annual migration along the "Pacific Flyway." Since utility poles are often the highest and most prominent points in the landscape, birds often perch on the poles to hunt or rest. PG&E's system includes nearly 160,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution power lines. When birds seek out these power lines for perching and 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.

(left) Using helicopters, PG&E crews rescued dozens of cormorant eggs prior to performing reliability upgrades to transmission towers in the San Francisco Bay Area. With funding from PG&E, the International Bird Rescue Research Center cared for the rescued birds and then released them into the environment.

(right) PG&E uses helicopters to employ bird flight diverters—devices that have proven to reduce waterfowl collisions with power lines.

Under state and federal laws, PG&E has an important responsibility to protect birds. For this reason, PG&E created an Avian Protection Plan designed to protect migratory, threatened and endangered birds while improving safety and reliability for our customers.

In 2002, PG&E and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered into an agreement that required PG&E to implement various bird protection measures. When this agreement expired in 2007, we voluntarily adopted the Avian Protection Plan, one of the most comprehensive in the nation. PG&E has earned recognition from environmental organizations and regulatory agencies for our commitment, including the Frank J. Lichtanski Award from the Ventana Wildlife Society in 2009.

Since 2002, in compliance with the agreement, PG&E has retrofitted nearly 16,400 existing utility poles and towers with "bird-safe" equipment (see chart below). We have also retrofitted more than 16,800 poles in areas that pose the highest risk to birds, based on where bird injuries, fatalities or bird-related power outages have occurred. All new poles and replacement poles in designated "Raptor Concentration Zones" are also built "bird-safe."

Bird Protection Program (Bird-Safe Retrofits)

In 2009, we developed an innovative training program to help employees understand how to comply with all federal and state bird protection laws and properly report and track all avian electrocutions or collisions. By providing clear guidance and showing employees examples of bird-safe poles and equipment, we are strengthening compliance and making our electric grid more sustainable.

PG&E continues to partner with wildlife conservation organizations and agencies to make changes to help avoid bird incidents. This includes pioneering the use of helicopters to help install special bird flight diverters in hard-to-reach locations throughout our diverse service area.

We are installing devices known as transmission tower bridge guards to improve reliability by reducing outages caused by bird waste on 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. The platforms give birds safer locations on which to build their nests.

Forest Management and Habitat Restorationmore...

PG&E ensured the protection of two Great Blue Heron nests during a timber harvest last year near Lake McCumber.
PG&E has practiced sustainable forestry on our watershed lands for the past 60 years, with an emphasis on forest restoration. PG&E is actively working to create healthier forests across 52,000 acres of company-owned forest lands by removing overstocked and unhealthy trees susceptible to insect attacks and disease.

Key elements of our 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 and reforesting fire-damaged and brush-covered watershed lands.

For example, PG&E took a number of steps last year to protect local wildlife during a timber harvest covering roughly 220 acres near McCumber Reservoir. Located 40 miles east of Redding, the area is widely used for camping, picnicking, fishing and other recreation. It is also home to two Great Blue Heron nests. PG&E worked with the community to ensure the Herons' protection throughout the project, including conducting no harvesting operations during their critical nesting period and establishing a buffer between the nests and the timber harvest beyond what was required.

In 2009, PG&E sold more than 18,000 bone-dry tons of wood chips from its timber harvest operations to biomass facilities to generate renewable energy. This created enough electricity to power approximately 1,800 homes for one year. To generate the fuel, PG&E selectively harvested nearly 3,000 acres, removing small overstocked trees and the tops and limbs of larger trees. This work created a healthier environment for the remaining trees and the wildlife that inhabit the sites.

Vegetation Managementmore...

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 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.

Trees that come into contact with 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 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 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.

To date, to compensate for impacts to beetle habitats from our tree trimming, we have permanently protected more than 975 acres of high-quality beetle habitat, working in partnership with groups such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and other organizations.

Another new challenge for PG&E's Vegetation Management program is compliance with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's Standard FAC-003-1. This new standard applies to bulk transmission lines and is intended to prevent a large scale transmission outage, such as the 2003 blackout on the east coast that affected 50 million people across eight states and a Canadian province, resulting in three deaths.

PG&E determined that walnut and almond orchards that grow directly below bulk transmission lines posed the greatest risk of contributing to a large-scale outage. Because possible remedies include removing these trees or pruning them to a height that severely reduces their crop production, we proactively engaged orchard owners to identify a more collaborative solution. In return for letting PG&E remove the trees, we began compensating the orchard owners for a new easement that prohibits replanting of tall growing species.