Pacific Gas and Electric Co. representatives say winter storms are to blame for lengthy — and potentially costly — delays in providing new service to projects that are in development throughout Tuolumne County.
In some cases, the delays are preventing projects from moving forward and increasing costs for developers. The San Francisco-based utility giant said its having crews work overtime and bringing on contractors to get the scheduled work back on track.
“We are looking to catch up in the next month,” said PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Merlo. “We really encourage our customers to reach out to us to get an update on their project.”
The delays are not unique to the county and stretch throughout the company’s coverage area from Bakersfield to the Oregon border, Merlo said. However, she was unable to provide numbers on average wait times and the total backlogged work.
Among the local projects that have experienced delays are the Sonora Armory project that’s under construction at 208 S. Green St. in downtown Sonora and work on the county’s Law and Justice Center off Old Wards Ferry Road.
Several other developers say delays have caused some issues with the progress on their projects, but they said they were not comfortable providing details.
Merlo said PG&E spent 54 of the first 94 days of the year solely focused on responding to damage caused by record-setting winter storms in January and February. More than 5,000 employees were involved in the response effort, as well as 40 mutual-aid crews from Southern California, Oregon and Washington.
Crews repaired more than 3,700 spans of PG&E power line damaged by the January storms, which is 28 percent of the volume that was repaired or replaced throughout all of 2016. The company also repaired or replaced 164 insulators, 513 crossarms and 884 utility poles, Merlo said.
“It required everyone to respond,” Merlo said, adding that even the 1,200 employees in the company’s service-planning division were involved.
The company bills itself as one of the largest combined providers of natural gas and electricity in the United States, with nearly 16 million customers in Central and Northern California. Last year, PG&E collected more than $17 billion in revenue and paid nearly $1 billion in dividends to shareholders.
Reuben Chirnside said he’s seen the effects of the delays on development in the county as project manager for Land and Structure, a surveying, engineering and building design firm based in Sonora.
Chirnside said he’s had to lower the expectations of some clients looking to get a project off the ground quickly.
“From a priority point of view, the emergency stuff has to take precedence in their (PG&E’s) world,” Chirnside said. “The ramifications of that is private development suffers for a period of time.”
Chirnside is working with the developer of the Sonora Armory, which will include an indoor theater, retail store, outdoor beer garden, and the existing Bourbon Barrel bar and restaurant.
An application for getting additional power service to the building was submitted late last year. Chirnside said they got preliminary designs back about two weeks ago, nearly six months after getting their permits for construction approved by the City of Sonora.
“Normally, you could get it done in the same sort of timeframe as getting plans through the city or county,” Chirnside said.
Chirnside said there’s always an option to hire a private engineer to design the electrical infrastructure, but he’s never done that because he believes it would be just as difficult or take even longer because PG&E has all the information about their utility infrastructure.
Designs from outside firms still have to be approved by PG&E, as well.
“It’s hard to see how that would work smoothly,” Chirnside said.
It’s a frustrating predicament for a developer looking to complete a project on schedule.
Doug Kennedy, developer of the Sonora Armory, said he’s hoping to open the business by late summer or early fall, but if the delays continue at the same rate it could be pushed back to later in the year or 2018.
“These guys are the only shop in town, and they straddle the fence between private sector and government,” Kennedy said of PG&E. “It’s impacting decisions being made by contractors and folks making business decisions.”
The backlog is also causing delays for taxpayer-funded projects, such as the Law and Justice Center.
Deputy County Administrator Maureen Frank said she submitted plans in September for providing power to a transit hub, jail and courthouse planned for the Law and Justice Center.
The final drawings were returned Monday morning.
“When we submitted in September, we thought two or three months,” Frank said. “Their staff has been very friendly and and cooperative, it’s just resources for them seem to be extremely short.”
The delays will cost the county additional money that’s going to be negotiated with the contractor, but Frank said it won’t prevent the project from breaking ground in August as scheduled.
Frank said she hopes management at PG&E is taking note and trying to figure out a way to reduce the wait times.
“We’re always going to have storms,” Frank said. “How can they as an organization keep us up and running during an emergency, but also keep these projects going?”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.