PG&E Transformer Explosion Prompts CPUC Investigation, Call for Hearing

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PG&E cones sit outside 8 Heymen Ave. in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood, where a transformer exploded on Sept. 26, 2015, injuring two. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

The California Public Utilities Commission has launched an investigation into an underground transformer explosion that injured two men in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood over the weekend.

The incident has also led a San Francisco supervisor, who represents the area where the explosion took place, to call for a hearing into the safety of PG&E's underground electricity infrastructure.

The Saturday morning explosion, near Coleridge Street and Heyman Avenue, was apparently the result of an equipment failure that occurred when a utility crew was working to fix a wire-down outage five blocks away.

It injured two men. Both were transported to San Francisco General Hospital, where one was treated and released quickly and the other was expected to be released Monday, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge. The men's injuries were minor, Talmadge said.

PG&E employees in the area responded quickly and helped get the two men to the hospital, company spokesman Joe Molica said in an email.  Molica said PG&E worked to restore power by the following morning to all customers affected by the outage.

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"We are conducting a comprehensive review of this incident," Molica said. "The safety of the public and our customers is always our top priority."

Molica added that the utility would bring in a third-party firm to do an independent investigation. “PG&E conducted a patrol of the electric-distribution equipment in the neighborhood on June 4, 2015, with no issues,” he said.

He added that there had been no circuit-level outages on the impacted circuit in the past year, and “PG&E conducted a thorough inspection of the transformer in 2013.”

Supervisor David Campos, a Bernal Heights resident whose district includes the neighborhood, says the explosion is cause for concern -- so much so that he plans to call for a hearing about it at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

"The fact that something like this could happen is pretty scary," Campos said in an interview.  "I want to give every one of the residents that I represent the assurance that something like this is not going to happen, or that at least we're doing everything we can to prevent it from happening. At this point I don't know that I can provide that assurance."

The District 9 supervisor wants representatives of PG&E and the city agencies that oversee it to explain what caused the explosion, and what's being done to prevent a repeat incident.

More than 10 years ago, an underground transformer explosion badly burned a woman near the Crocker Galleria mall in downtown San Francisco, prompting then-mayor Gavin Newsom to demand that PG&E ramp up its inspections.