Is PG&E Concealing Dam Safety Liabilities?

Friends of the Eel River has been evaluating the safety and reliability of Scott Dam for several years now. We continue to have serious concerns about structural integrity and seismic stability, as well as PG&E’s failure to evaluate and disclose such liabilities. Please read our letter below to key elected officials, an attempt to draw attention to these concerns, as well as our attached memo detailing the regulatory background, PG&E’s apparent failure to meet FERC standards, and the implications for project relicensing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

via email

Gov. Gavin Newsom

Rep. Jared Huffman

Sen. Mike McGuire

Assemblymember Jim Wood


Re: Holding PG&E Responsible for Safety of its Eel River Dams

Dear California Leaders,

For the past several years, Friends of the Eel River and other key stakeholders in the Eel and Russian River basins have been working to secure an equitable agreement on the future of Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) two dams on the upper Eel River under the “two-basin solution” framework Representative Huffman has articulated. While we have made great progress toward this goal, we have often been frustrated by PG&E’s lack of transparency and failure to cooperate with our efforts.

Recent communications between PG&E and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) raise questions whether PG&E has failed to disclose information which would reveal the vulnerability of its Eel River dams and the company’s associated liabilities.

We bring these questions before you as California’s elected leaders for two related reasons. First, it is important the state of California insist PG&E’s responsibilities around its aging dams not be absolved by any bankruptcy deal. If FERC orders removal of the Eel River dams, PG&E should bear all associated costs.
Second, as stakeholders from the Eel and Russian River watersheds work to define a new public entity to take ownership of the dams with public financing, it’s essential PG&E fully disclose its potential liabilities before any agreement is made.

Three particularly egregious examples of PG&E’s apparent efforts to obscure its liabilities are summarized in the attached memo. They include PG&E’s attempt to minimize the vulnerability of Scott Dam to maximum potential flood; PG&E’s failure to submit a required seismic stability analysis for Scott Dam after the company’s consultant apparently refused to concur with its findings; and the utility’s failure to address the unstable ancient landslide above Scott Dam’s southern abutment.

It is at best difficult for citizens to determine the facts of these situations. PG&E has chosen to broadly designate virtually every piece of information relevant to dam safety as Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII). CEII material is exempt from public disclosure requirements. Thus, it is impossible to secure independent professional peer review of PG&E’s analyses and conclusions. Given the lack of transparency in both PG&E’s reporting and FERC’s oversight, additional important safety issues – which may give rise to substantial potential liability for PG&E – may never have been publicly disclosed.

Of course, these questions about the safety of PG&E’s Potter Valley Project dams come in the context of broad and extremely serious concerns about PG&E’s systematic failures to provide for public safety. PG&E’s inadequate pipeline maintenance led to the destruction of a San Bruno neighborhood, felony convictions for the company, and a public inquiry into its safety culture by the California Public Utilities Commission. The utility’s failure to maintain its transmission lines caused a series of devastating wildfires and PG&E’s second bankruptcy filing in twenty years. These are just the best-known stories from a series of similar shortfalls, in which PG&E has always put profits ahead of safety. PG&E’s pattern of behavior is so pervasive it can fairly be understood to reflect both corporate culture and company policy.

In this context, it is reasonable to require PG&E to produce the information under its control that would confirm – or refute – our concerns about dam safety and related issues at the Potter Valley Project. It would not, however, seem reasonable to ask public bodies to invest substantial public funds in a reconfiguration of the Potter Valley Project without a full and complete accounting of the project’s liabilities.

We respectfully request you join us in taking all measures necessary to insure that PG&E fully reveal all of the information in its possession relevant to the safety and reliability of the PVP dams.

Thank you for your kind attention to this complex matter.

Scott Greacen

Conservation Director


To read our Dam Safety Memo click here.