Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant: The WikiBook/The company

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The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), is the Public utility|utility that provides natural gas and electricity to most of the northern two-thirds of California, from Bakersfield almost to the Oregon border. It is a subsidiary of the PG&E Corporation.

PG&E was founded in 1905 and is currently headquartered in the Pacific Gas & Electric Building in San Francisco.


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San Francisco Gas

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In the 1850s, manufactured gas was being introduced as means of lighting for the first time and coal gasification works were being built in the larger eastern American cities. San Francisco pioneer foundryman and blacksmith Peter Donahue (businessman)|Peter Donahue and his brothers established a foundry below North Beach, San Francisco|North Beach, and later in the south of Market area. The foundry would become the Union Iron Works, the greatest industrial concern in 19th century San Francisco. Donahue learned all he could about gas manufacturing and with his brother James and a young engineer named Joseph G. Eastland incorporated the San Francisco Gas Company on August 31, 1852. The original location for the gas works was bounded by First, Fremont, Howard and Natoma streets south of Market, on the then shore of the San Francisco Bay. On the night of February 11, 1854, the streets of San Francisco were for the first time lighted by gas, and a banquet was held at the Oriental hotel. In a year, the company had 12 miles (19 km) of street mains, thousands of gas streetlights, two gas holders at First and Howard with a combined capacity of 160,000 cubic feet (4,500 m3) and a monopoly of city gasification contracts. The cost of gas was billed at 15 dollars per thousand cubic feet, where no meters were installed, the price was estimated from the size of the burners. Shortly thereafter, the Citizens Gas Company was given a fifty year franchise by the state legislature but when the company was built and ready to deliver gas, it sold out to the San Francisco Gas Company.

In April 1870, the City Gas Company was organized and built its works on the Potrero Point shoreline. Another company, the Metropolitan Gas Company, was established but was not a success, and it was quickly purchased by the San Francisco Gas Company.

San Francisco Gas Light

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All these companies were merged with larger infusions of capital into the San Francisco Gas Light company in 1873. A rival company, the Central Gas Company, came into existence in 1882 and the rate for gas went as low 0.90 cents a thousand cubic feet. The Central and the Pacific Gas Improvement Company were merged into the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company, (SFG&E Co.) September 1, 1903.

Rapid technological improvements in the processes of manufacturing gas were immediately adopted by the company. When petroleum was produced in California, the manufacture of water gas, then in general use in eastern and midwest states, began in San Francisco.

Water gas was first made from anthracite coal brought around Cape Horn from Swansea in Wales and enriched with California petroleum. The first water gas works, a thoroughly modern plant, was established at Potrero Point and the manufacture of water gas was a success due to the increased amount of petroleum available that reduced costs. The company then acquired land in North Beach at Bay, Laguna and Webster streets, and in 1891, the North Beach Gas Works was built. For many years this facility, with its Template:Convert/Mcuft gas holder, was considered the finest gas works in the world. The original plant at Howard Street was dismantled.

Circa 1890 they also built a small electrical generator at the Potrero Point site, a first in California. This site would later become the Potrero Generating Station.

San Francisco Gas and Electric

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In December 1896, the San Francisco Gas Light Company merged with the Edison Light and Power Company under the new title San Francisco Gas and Electric Company and this company existed until 1903 and then dissolved.

Other companies that started in the business in active competition but eventually merged into the SFG&E co. were the Equitable Gas Light Company and the Independent Electric Light and Power and the Independent Gas and Power company, founded by Claus Spreckels, the king of California sugar.

Pacific Gas and Electric company 1905

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The company known as Pacific Gas and Electric incorporated on October 10, 1905, as a consolidation of more than two dozen power and water concerns around the state. PG&E went on to consolidate power in northern California and by 1952 represented 520 companies merged.

By 1906, the exclusive use of petroleum for manufactured gas was catching on and a 4,000,000 cubic feet (110,000 m3) gas-oil unit was built at the Potrero Gas Works. A similar unit had been built at the Martin Station in Visitacion Valley on the San Mateo County border and was connected to the Potrero works by a 12-inch (300 mm) high pressure pipe for use in San Francisco. At around the same time, hydroelectric power was established in California at the Colgate power plant on the Yuba River which began to deliver power for agriculture. In 1905, Pacific Gas and Electric Company was formed by a merger of the SFG&E Co. and the California Gas and Electric Corporation. The 1906 earthquake destroyed the North Beach Gas Works but the Potrero works were unaffected and along with the Martin Station, supplied the city after the Great fire. In 1912 PG&E began installing meters to free itself from the previous flat rate billing scheme.

PG&E began delivering natural gas to San Francisco and northern California in 1930 through the longest pipeline in the world, connecting the Texas gas fields to northern California with compressor stations that included cooling towers every 300 miles (480 km), at Topock, Arizona, on the state line, and near the town of Hinkley, California. With the introduction of natural gas, the company began retiring its polluting gas manufacturing facilities, though it kept some plants on standby.


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1906 also marked the year that PG&E purchased the Sacramento Electric, Gas and Railway Company. The history of the PG&E streetcar lines in Sacramento goes back to the Sacramento City Street Railway, a 5-foot (1.5 m) track gauge|gauge horsecar railway that operated 9 miles (14 km) of street railway in Sacramento in the late 19th century. The Sacramento Street Railway was purchased by the Sacramento Electric, Power and Light Company Electric Railway. In 1896, the Sacramento Electric, Power & Light Company Electric Railway was purchased by the Sacramento Electric, Gas & Railway Company. In 1906, PG&E acquired the line and in 1915 PG&E operated the line under the PG&E name. PG&E's streetcars had lines such as the "#6 - Oak Park Line". In 1943, PG&E sold the lines to Sacramento City Lines which ended up in the hands of the National City Lines. National City Lines converted several streetcar lines in that era to bus service and the track was abandoned on January 4, 1947.[1]

North American Company

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By 1940, PG&E had become one of four major direct operating company subsidiaries, out of a group of ten major direct subsidiaries, that were controlled by North American Company. In eight of the ten direct subsidiaries, North American owned at least 79% stake. By 1940 North American was a US$2.3 billion holding company heading up a pyramid of by then 80 companies.[2]

North American's stock had once been one of the twelve component stocks of the May 1896 original Dow Jones Industrial Average.[3] North American Company was broken up by the Securities and Exchange Commission, following the United States Supreme Court decision of April 1, 1946.[2]

Postwar era

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In the post war era, PG&E went on a massive building spree, creating 14 new hydroelectric plants and 5 steam plants.

As of December 1992, PG&E operated 173 electric generating units and 85 generating stations, 18,450 miles (29,690 km) of transmission lines and 101,400 miles (163,200 km) of distribution system.

In the later 1990s, under electricity market deregulation this utility sold off most of its natural gas power plants. The utility retained all of its hydroelectric plants, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant and a few natural gas plants, but the large natural gas plants it sold made up a large portion of its generating capacity. This had the effect of requiring the utility to buy power from the energy generators at fluctuating prices, while being forced to sell the power to consumers at a fixed cost. However, the market for electricity was dominated by the Enron Corporation, which, with help from other corporations, artificially pushed prices for electricity ever higher. This led to the California electricity crisis that began in 2000 on Path 15, a transmission corridor PG&E built.

With a critical power shortage, rolling blackouts began on January 17, 2001.


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With little generating capacity of its own, and unable to sell electricity to consumers for more than it could buy it on the open market, PG&E entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy April 6, 2001. The state of California bailed out the utility, and the cost worsened an already bad state budget situation. This played an important part in the eventual 2003 California recall|recall of Governor of California|California Governor Gray Davis.

PG&E emerged from bankruptcy in April 2004, after distributing $10.2 billion to hundreds of creditors. Its 4.8 million electricity customers are expected to pay an average $1,300 to $1,700 each in above-market prices through 2012.[citation needed]

Generation portfolio

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PG&E's utility-owned generation portfolio consists an extensive hydroelectric system, one operating nuclear power plant, one operating natural gas-fired power plant, and another gas-fired plant under construction. Two other plants owned by the company have been permanently removed from commercial operation: Humboldt Bay Unit 3 (nuclear) and Hunters Point (fossil).


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PG&E's hydroelectric portfolio is the largest under private ownership in the United States. Drawing water from approximately 100 reservoirs along 16 river basins, its maximum electric output is 3,896 MW.

The single largest component is the Helms Pumped Storage Project, located in Fresno County, California. Helms consists of three units, each rated at 404 MW, for a total output of 1,212 MW. The facility operates between Courtright and Wishon reservoirs, alternately draining water from Courtright to produce electricity when demand is high, and pumping it back into Courtright from Wishon when demand is low. The Haas Power station|Powerhouse is situated more than 1,000 feet (300 m) inside a solid granite mountain.[4]


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The Diablo Canyon Power Plant, located in Avila Beach, California, is the only operating nuclear asset owned by PG&E. The maximum output of this power plant is 2,240 MWe, provided by two equally sized units. As designed and licensed, it could be expanded to four units, at least doubling its generating capacity.[5] Over a two-week period in 1981, 1,900 activists were arrested at Diablo Canyon Power Plant. It was the largest arrest in the history of the U.S. Anti-nuclear movement in California|anti-nuclear movement.[6]

The company operated the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant|Humboldt Bay Power Plant, Unit 3 in Eureka, California. It is the oldest commercial nuclear plant in California and its maximum output was 65 MWe. The plant operated for 13 years, until 1976 when it was shut down for seismic retrofitting. New regulations enacted after the Three Mile Island accident, however, rendered the plant unprofitable and it was never restarted. Unit 3 is currently in decommissioning phase and scheduled to be fully dismantled in 2015. The spent nuclear fuel is currently stored at the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) on the plant site because of the United States Department of Energy's failure to open the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in a timely manner.

Pacific Gas & Electric planned to build the first commercially viable nuclear power plant in the United States at Bodega Bay, a fishing village fifty miles north of San Francisco. The proposal was controversial and conflict with local citizens began in 1958.[7] In 1963 there was a large demonstration at the site of the proposed Bodega Bay Nuclear Power Plant.[8] The conflict ended in 1964, with the forced abandonment of plans for the power plant.[7]

Fossil fuels

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Built in 1956, there are two conventional fossil fuel (natural gas/fuel oil) units at Humboldt Bay Power Plant that produce 105 MWe of combined output. These units, along with two 15 MWe Mobile Emergency Power Plants (MEPPs), will be retired in the summer of 2010. The Humboldt Bay Generating Station, built on the same site, is set to take the older power plant's place in the summer of 2010. It will producing 163 MWe using natural gas for fuel and fuel oil for backup on Wärtsilä Diesel engines. It will employ technology to produce 80 percent fewer ozone precursors and 30 percent less CO2 than the previous facility. The new design will also reduce water use by eliminating the need for "once-through" cooling.

As part of a settlement with Mirant|Mirant Services LLC for alleged market manipulations during the 2001 California electricity crisis|California energy crisis, PG&E took ownership of a partially constructed natural gas unit in Antioch, California. The 530 MW unit, known as the Gateway Generating Station, was completed by PG&E and placed into operation in 2009.

On May 15, 2006, after a long and bitter political battle, PG&E shut down its 48-year-old Bayview-Hunters Point, San Francisco|Hunters Point power plant in San Francisco, California|San Francisco. At the time of closure, the maximum output of the plant was 170 MW. Residents of the impoverished neighborhood had been pushing for more than a decade to close the plant, claiming it contributed to above average rates of asthma and other ailments.

PG&E broke ground in 2008 on a 660 MW natural gas power plant located in Colusa County. It is expected to begin operation in 2010, and will serve nearly half a million residences using the latest technology and environmental design. The plant will use dry cooling technology to dramatically reduce water usage, and cleaner-burning turbines to reduce CO2 emissions by 35 percent relative to older plants.[9]


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On April 1, 2008, PG&E announced contracts to buy three new solar power plants in the Mojave Desert. With an output of 500 MW and options for another 400 MW, the three installations will initially generate enough electricity to power more than 375,000 residences.[10]

On April 14, 2009 the San Jose Mercury News carried an article by Steve Johnson stating that PG&E is asking the California Public Utilities Commission to approve a project to deliver 200 Megawatts of power to California from space. This method of obtaining electricity from the sun eliminates (mostly) the darkness of night experienced from solar sites on the surface of the earth. According to PG&E spokesman Jonathan Marshall, energy purchase costs are expected to be similar to other renewable energy contracts.

PG&E and the environment

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Beginning in the mid-1970s, regulatory and political developments began to push utilities in California away from a traditional business model. In 1976, the California State Legislature amended the Warren-Alquist Act,[11] which created and gives legal authority to the California Energy Commission, to effectively prohibit the construction of new nuclear power plants. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed as an intervenor in PG&E's 1978 General Rate Case (GRC), claiming that the company's requests for rate increases were based on unrealistically high projections of load growth. Furthermore, EDF claimed that PG&E could more cost-effectively encourage industrial co-generation and energy efficiency than build more power plants. As a result of EDF's involvement in PG&E's rate cases, the company was eventually fined $50 million by the California Public Utilities Commission for failing to adequately implement energy efficiency programs.

Since Darbee took control of the PG&E Company in 2004, PG&E has aggressively promoted its environmental image through a variety of programs and campaigns.[citation needed]

In the early first decade of the 21st century, the CEO of PG&E Corporation, Peter Darbee, and then-CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Tom King, publicly announced their support for Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006|California Assembly Bill 32, a measure to cap statewide greenhouse gas emissions and a 25% reduction of emissions by 2020. The bill was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on September 27, 2006.


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Groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California

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The town of Hinkley, California had its groundwater contaminated with hexavalent chromium from a PG&E natural gas compressor plant resulting in a legal case and multi-million dollar settlement. The legal case was documented in Erin Brockovich (film)|Erin Brockovich, a drama film released in 2000.

San Bruno, California explosion

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On the evening of September 9, 2010, a suburb in San Bruno, California exploded when a 30-inch PG&E gas pipeline erupted that killed 8 people, injured dozens and led to 6 missing people. The blast created a crater at the epicenter damaging several homes and was reported by the United States Geological Survey|USGS to have a shock wave similar to a 1.1 magnitude earthquake. Following the event, the company was heavily scrutinized for ignoring the warnings of a state inspector in 2009 failing to provide adequate safety procedures. [12] The incident currently remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.


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  1. *Fickewirth, Alvin A. (1992). California Railroads. San Marino, California: Golden West Books. p. 117. ISBN 0-87095-106-8.
  2. a b U.S. Supreme Court decision, NORTH AMERICAN CO. v. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COM'N, 327 U.S. 686 (1946), Decided April 1, 1946, FindLaw.com
  3. Jeremy J. Siegel, Stocks for the Long Run, McGraw-Hill, Second Edition, 1998, ISBN 0-07-058043-X
  4. "Powerhouse Inside Mountain has Six Mile Waterfall" , March 1959, Popular Mechanics the Haas Powerhouse at the Wishon Reservoir
  5. Statement made repeatedly by Bill Wattenburg|Dr. Bill Wattenburg during his weekly radio show in 2007 and 2008, broadcast on radio station KGO (AM)|KGO out of San Francisco, California.
  6. Conservation Fallout: Nuclear Protest at Diablo Canyon
  7. a b Paula Garb.Critical Masses: Opposition to Nuclear Power in California, 1958-1978 (book review) Journal of Political Ecology, Vol 6, 1999.
  8. Office of Technology Assessment. (1984). Public Attitudes Toward Nuclear Power p. 231.
  9. http://www.colusa-sun-herald.com/news/-2039--.html PG&E charges ahead
  10. PG&E backs 3 solar plants in the Mojave by David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2008
  11. Full text of the Warren-Alquist Act, see section 25524.2
  12. Van Derbeken, Jaxon (December 16, 2010). "PG&E inspection methods questioned in May audit". The San Francisco Chronicle. http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-12-16/news/25194054_1_pg-e-gas-lines-pacific-gas. 

Further reading

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  • "The History of Gas Lighting in San Francisco" Pacific Gas and Electric Magazine Vol. 1 #3 August 1909
  • PG&E - A Report on the Companies Environmental Policies and Practices - Council on Economic Priorities - NY April 1994
  • Roe, David. Dynamos and Virgins. (New York: Random House, 1984.)
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