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PG&E unveils new San Ramon gas control center

Hub at Bishop Ranch puts company's gas monitoring and dispatch operations under same roof

PG&E debuted its new San Ramon gas control center Friday, showcasing the integrated technological system and centralized operational structure the company developed in the wake of the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

"This is the front line of public and employee safety," said Melvin Christopher, senior director of gas system operations. "This is the place where we monitor and control the system all across the northern part of California."

The $38 million facility, the first of its kind for PG&E, brings the control and dispatch operations for the company's entire 70,000-square-mile natural gas service area under one roof.

Located in Bishop Ranch, the informational hub features new computers and smart technology, a 90-foot-wide video screen and about 1,600 employees monitoring the nearly 80,000 miles of underground pipeline around the clock.

Nearly 100 government officials, business professionals and community figures attended Friday's grand-opening event and tour.

"After an incident like 2010, and after the loss of 2010, what is most important is what you learn going forward. And this center ... represents what PG&E has learned," said U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin).

Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace Andersen and San Ramon Mayor Bill Clarkson also addressed the group gathered inside the center's conference room Friday morning.

PG&E received formal recognition from federal, state, county and city governing bodies in honor of the new gas control center.

The facility houses the distribution control, transmission control and emergency dispatch operations for the company's natural gas system. It brings together hundreds of employees previously spread across Northern California, and it allows for easier and more informed communication between workers monitoring the system remotely and those responding in the field, according to PG&E officials.

Company representatives also said the control center serves as just one example of its continued improvements following the Sept. 9, 2010 explosion and subsequent fire in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured others, destroyed several dozen homes and damaged dozens more.

Federal authorities determined poor pipeline welding led to the blast.

Through a three-pronged approach, PG&E is working to enhance its "safety culture" by focusing on operational excellence, renewing infrastructure and investing in its employees, said chairman, CEO and president Anthony F. Earley Jr.

PG&E plans to spend an estimated $300 million in updated technology over the next six years, Christopher said.

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