State officials consider penalties in PG&E plant death

State officials consider penalties in PG&E plant death »Play Video
FILE -- Kern Power Plant off Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway in Bakersfield, Calif., is seen in an August 2012 file photo.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - State officials are considering penalties against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for the 2012 death of a worker dismantling the idled Kern Power Plant.

A contracted construction worker, Luis Roberto Minjarez, of Los Angeles, was suspended in a basket when the basket overturned and he fell 50 feet to his death.

He was using a torch to cut beams in a boiler room. A falling beam hit the basket.

Minjarez was an employee of Cleveland Wrecking Co. of Covina.

Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission said it will consider penalties after its investigation determined that PG&E:

  • failed to accurately and adequately evaluate safety in contract bid proposals;
  • did not provide adequate contractor project safety review and oversight;
  • and neglected to evaluate safer alternatives to manually torch-cutting unsupported, weakened tank walls from an elevated man-lift.

PG&E sought to delegate its duty to maintain a safe system to a third-party contractor, among other violations, according to CPUC.

CPUC's commissioners voted Thursday to open a formal proceeding to consider penalties against PG&E.

A violation of the Public Utilities Code, or a CPUC decision or order, is subject to fines of $500 to $50,000 for each violation, for each ongoing day. The CPUC may also order the implementation of operational and policy measures designed to prevent future incidents.

PG&E released the following statement in response to the CPUC decision:

"The 2012 fatality that occurred at the Kern Power Plant was a tragedy and our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the individual’s families, friends and co-workers. Safety is and always will be the top priority for PG&E’s customers, employees and contractors. We are aware that the CPUC has opened proceedings and we will continue to cooperate fully with the CPUC’s investigation. We hold ourselves and our contractors to the highest safety standard and we want to make sure nothing like this ever happens again."

PG&E has been working for years to tear down the plant, which operated from 1948 until 1985, when it went into stand-by status. It was permanently closed in 1995.

The valuable land sits at the high-traffic corner of Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway. Post-demolition development plans haven't been announced.