The Nuts and Bolts of Making Our System Safer and More Reliable Every Day

By Tim Fitzpatrick

Accountants refer to them as “capital expenditures.”

Engineers, academics and politicians prefer to call them “infrastructure investments.”

To you and me, what we’re talking about are pipes and wires, transformers and gas valves, nuts and bolts. Improving the safety and reliability of our system starts with investing in physical hardware that keeps things working well and will continue to do so for decades.

PG&E project manager Peter Hypnar oversees a recently renovated Silicon Valley substation, a project that's improving electric reliability for 50,000 customers.

Plans for 2013 called for us to spend more than $5 billion on infrastructure improvements, including $2.7 billion to upgrade our electric system, $1.6 billion to improve our gas system and $800 million for our energy generation systems.

To put this in perspective, we’re among 25 companies in the Fortune 200 — excluding financial firms — spending the most on capital investment in the United States. Interestingly, most of those companies are in the energy sector. And that’s a good thing. For one, energy is a job-creating engine. But much more than that, energy infrastructure investments are laying the groundwork for our economy’s future strength and competitiveness.

It’s easy to forget that as our lives get increasingly digital and automated, our reliance on energy grows as well. As utilities, our responsibility is to work in the background, making sure this future has the underlying framework to support it.

That’s what’s happening across our service area today. For example:

  • In Silicon Valley we recently completed upgrades to the El Patio substation. The project increased capacity for thousands of customers in San Jose, Saratoga, Campbell and Cupertino, including such major customers as San Jose City College and the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
  • In Bakersfield, 12 miles of electric transmission lines and components are being upgraded to improve reliability and accommodate future growth on the west side of the Kern County town.  Ultimately, 2,000 homes and businesses will benefit.
  • And in San Francisco, where PG&E Chairman and CEO Tony Earley in 2013 pledged $1.2 billion worth of gas, electric and other upgrades over five years, some of those projects are starting to come online. That includes the makeover of the Mission Substation at Mission and Eighth streets. Although the upgrades inside the building are impressive, the work that PG&E did on the exterior — including adding LED lights, restoring the facade and improving security — benefit the neighborhood as well.

Of course, I’m only scratching the surface. As a whole, our work is not only improving the safety and reliability of our gas and electric infrastructure, it’s enabling our nation’s economic and technological progress — one nut, one bolt at a time.

Tim Fitzpatrick is PG&E’s vice president of corporate relations and chief communications officer. Follow Tim on Twitter @PGE_Tim

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