Christopher Parkes, Director

The Office of the Safety Advocate (OSA) was created in response to Senate Bill 62 (Chapter 806, Statutes of 2016) to advocate, on behalf of the interest of public utility customers, for the continuous and cost-effective improvement of the safety management and safety performance of public utilities.

Per statute, Public Utilities Code (PUC) 309.8 was enacted in 2016 and required the division to:

  1. Intervene in CPUC proceedings to advocate for effective public utility safety management and infrastructure improvements and for the transparency of safety information;
  2. Recommend improvements to the CPUC's safety management policies and procedures and safety culture; and
  3. Sponsor testimony and exhibits in CPUC proceedings on safety related risks to assist the CPUC in holding public utilities accountable for their safe operation.

Pursuant to the same statute, OSA sunsetted on January 1, 2020 and PUC 309.8 was repealed.

The experience and expertise of staff who were part of OSA have been integrated into the CPUC’s ongoing and future safety policy, enforcement, and regulatory activities.

OSA Annual Reports

Per PUC 309.8(c)

Safety En Banc

Highlights of OSA Work

Wildfire Risks: Electric Utility Wildfire Mitigation Plans (WMPs) Rulemaking (Senate Bill 901, 2018 (SB901)) (R.18-10-007) and Electric Utility De-Energization Rulemaking (R.18-12-005)

  • January 2019
    • The Assigned Commissioner issued a ruling directing utilities to include electric transmission infrastructure in their wildfire mitigation plans and adding transmission owners as respondents to the proceeding.
  • December 2018
    • OSA Submitted recommended changes to a proposed utility wildfire mitigation plan template.
    • OSA recommended that wildfire mitigation plans include not only electric distribution, but explicitly also include electric transmission infrastructure. OSA recommended that the scope of the proceeding include:
      • Ongoing workshops to share best practices
      • Public safety and organizational metrics
      • Effectiveness evaluation of mitigation proposals
      • Explicit inclusion of utility safety culture assessments
  • November 2018
    • In November 2018, OSA recommended that the rulemaking scope include a survey of best practices and workshops to gather and share information on wildfire mitigation alternatives by inviting domestic and international experts including CAL FIRE, utilities, industry, regulators, academia, and more. OSA recommended that the proceeding promote a robust root cause analysis of ignitions, failures, and near misses to identify the most effective corrective actions and mitigations. OSA recommended that metrics be developed on mitigation program effectiveness and consequences, including unintended consequences, of alternative mitigation measures such as De-Energization. In December 2018, the Commission initiated a separate rulemaking devoted specifically to Electric De-Energization.

PG&E 2020 General Rate Case (GRC) (A.18-12-009) and 2017 Risk Assessment and Mitigation Phase (RAMP) (I.17-11-003)

  • January 2019
    • OSA recommended that the scope of the proceeding include evaluation of how PG&E incorporates lessons learned from its own experience, and other operators, in development of its rate case programs. As examples, OSA cited the 2017 and 2018 Wildfires, the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions, the Lake Oroville Dam Spillway Failure, and the Discovery Bay Gas Shortage. OSA recommended that the proceeding include evaluating how PG&E assesses the effectiveness of its previous mitigation programs in development of its rate case proposals and how PG&E used safety management system standards and best practices.
  • May 2018
    • PG&E filed its 2017 RAMP to support development of its 2020 GRC. OSA filed comments noting that although there may be benefits from using similar wildfire risk modeling among different utilities, the Commission should also consider geographic disparities and other factors that may justify alternative mitigation measures. Allowing variation could bring forward new modeling methods, mitigation measures, and improved best practices. OSA recommended that PG&E develop its RAMP based upon providing an evaluation of the effectiveness of mitigation plans from its last GRC. OSA also recommended that PG&E hydro system risk mitigation plans incorporate evaluations from California's Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD).

PG&E 2019 Gas Transmission and Storage (GT&S) Rate Case (A.17-11-009)

  • December 2018
    • OSA found that the utility's proposed Natural Gas Storage Strategy (NGSS) inadequately considered worst case outage scenarios. Rather than adopt the NGSS and proposed gas storage closures, OSA recommended that the Commission engage outside experts to conduct a gas storage and flow analysis study to evaluate the storage market needs specific to Northern California.
    • OSA highlighted limitations in the utility's development of a particular rate case pipeline risk management program. OSA recommended that the utility submit a revised pipeline risk management program for review by Commission staff, including OSA staff.
  • November 2018
    • OSA recommended that the Commission direct the utility and independent gas storage providers to collaboratively develop a safety management system framework for underground storage assets. OSA recommended other specific safety improvements including designation of an Accountable Officer/Executive with authority over operations and safety issues.
  • July 2018
    • OSA filed testimony recommending safety management system improvements including directing the utility and independent storage providers to conduct an independent 3rd party audited gap analysis against safety management system standards.

Sempra Utilities SDG&E (A.17-10-007) and SoCalGas (A.17-10-008) 2019 General Rate Case (GRC)

  • October 2018
    • In its October brief, OSA recommended that the Commission conduct a safety culture investigation to evaluate the effectiveness of the utility's safety culture, similar to the evaluation the Commission conducted for PG&E, to help identify corrective actions to prevent safety incidents.
    • OSA opposed the gas utility's rate case "Project Substitution" proposal to drop lower priority pipeline safety projects in favor of higher priority pipeline safety projects to ensure that the company did not spend more than aggregate amount authorized for recovery in its rate case. OSA recommended instead that even when higher priority urgent safety work emerges, all identified safety projects should be implemented, and that the utility be permitted to request reimbursement in the event it exceeded the amount authorized.
  • May 2018
    • OSA filed testimony highlighting safety risks and recommending specific safety management improvements including development of safety management system programs for electric and gas storage. OSA recommended development of enterprise level process safety leading performance indicators.

CPUC En Banc (hearing) on Safety Management Systems

  • March 2018
    • OSA hosted a CPUC En Banc on Safety Management Systems before Commissioners. OSA brought together regulators, utilities, and industry and academic experts to discuss and explore the application of safety management system standards as a tool to further improve utility safety, safety culture, and to prevent incidents; the live event was recorded and is available on the web.
    • Presenters included industry safety experts, top executives from the Commission's regulated utilities, Dr. Paul Schulman from UC Berkeley's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, Christopher A. Hart, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, and a safety culture expert from Canada's National Energy Board, Dr. Claudine Bradley.

CPUC Investigation into PG&E Safety Culture (I.15-08-019)

  • December 2018/January 2019
    • The Assigned Commissioner issued a ruling soliciting input from parties in February 2019 on various possible approaches to address the underlying issue of PG&E's safety culture and to consider a broad range of alternatives to current management and operational structures for providing electric and natural gas service in Northern California. OSA is engaging experts in development of its response.
  • November 2018
    • OSA filed comments supporting the Commission's proposed decision to open a new phase of the proceeding. OSA recommended adoption of metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of PG&E's implementation of corrective actions in the next phase of the proceeding. In adopting its decision and recommending a new phase of the proceeding, the Commission concluded "Results are a higher priority than intentions."
  • May 2018
    • OSA filed a brief contending that it was premature to conclude that PG&E's recent implementation of corrective actions were sufficient. OSA proposed next steps for how the CPUC may develop and use metrics to hold the utility accountable to implement multiple corrective actions and to track and assess their effectiveness at improving safety culture performance.
  • April 2018
    • OSA testified and conducted cross examination of PG&E on safety culture and governance in evidentiary hearings.
  • February 2018
    • OSA filed testimony recommending that the Commission further investigate metrics and survey methodologies to evaluate the effectiveness of PG&E corrective actions to improve safety culture and governance, and that PG&E extend its safety management system programs beyond pipelines and incorporate a comprehensive program encompassing gas storage, electric transmission and distribution, generation, hydro, and company enterprise programs.