Opening for PG&E Gas Safety Academy truly grand

PG&E celebrated the grand opening of its Gas Safety Academy in Winters, California on Wednesday, Sept. 27, with community members and local and regional elected officials in attendance.
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Traditionally when a new business opens in town, there is a ribbon cutting. However, upon the Sept. 27 grand opening of the PG&E Gas Safety Academy, rather than a “cutting apart,” there was a symbolic “fusing together” as the new $80 million facility officially became part of the Winters community.

To commemorate the transitional moment for community and entity alike, Winters Mayor Wade Cowan and PG&E President and COO Nick Stavropolous fused two special pieces of yellow pipe — each adorned with the City of Winters and PG&E logo — into one.

The training facility, which features training for every aspect of natural gas distribution, was entirely funded by PG&E, and came in the wake of the natural gas explosion of a PG&E pipeline in San Bruno in September 2010. Eight people died in the explosion and multiple residences were incinerated.

The company committed itself to doing everything possible to ensure that this never occurs again, and refocused on taking its safety practices to the next level. It was about this time when Stavropolous came on board, after years of managing a gas company in the north-eastern part of the country. Stavropolous welcomed the audience in attendance at the grand opening with great enthusiasm, reiterating the message delivered so many times that morning by several PG&E staff: PG&E’s goal is to become the safest, most reliable gas industry in the country.

Gesturing to the facility behind the podium, Stavropolous said, “We couldn’t achieve that without what we see behind us here today.”

Stavropolous noted that the opening of its new Gas Safety Academy, at which all new PG&E employees will recieve training and current employees will learn new state of the art skills, followed a statewide effort to improve natural gas lines and valves.

With praise for both his staff and local officials, as well as acknowledging the efforts of Assemly Member and former Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, City Manager John Donlevy and the Winters City Council to court the company in its early search for a location, Stavropolous said that what really clinched the decision was when he and Jesus Soto, PG&E’s senior vice president of gas, visited Winters on their own. Noting their love of barbecue, Stavropolous says the two “discovered the Buckhorn Steakhouse.”

“That’s when we knew that this was where we were going to build this facility,” quipped Stavropolous, with laughter and applause from the audience.

Stavropolous emphasized that PG&E wants to be welcomed into the community and that “we are good neighbors.” In fact, he said, the company already plans to invest several million more dollars in the facility, with improvements expected by the end of the year.

Scrumptious barbecue aside, Stavropolous singled out Aguiar-Curry and Donlevy as amongst the key people who contributed to bringing the facility to Winters, adding that he is “grateful” to be here. He predicted that the training offered here will make California a safer place, and that one day, PG&E officials will look back on this moment as “a transformational event for our company.”

With a new era of gas pipeline safety inaugurated, Stavropolous said, “When it comes to safety, our work is never done, and we’re committed to that.” Once again thanking everyone involved, he added, “You helped us transform our company now and in the years to come.”

Warm welcome

The cermony began with a welcome from Soto, who greeted officials in attendance,  ranging from local elected officials to state representatives as well as the mayors of Woodland, Davis and Fairfield. He began with an expression of appreciation to the Winters community.

“Thank you for embracing us as part of your community,” he said, and summarized  the Gas Safety Academy’s focus: “This is where competence begins. This facility is one of a kind, and it is world class.”

To emphasize PG&E’s devotion to safety, the audience was instructed what to do in the event of an emergency during the ceremony, right down to pointing out which staff were in charge of CPR and defibrillators, as well as exit sign locations and what to do in the event of an earthquake.

Following a presentation of the American and California flags by the local VFW 11091 of Winters and the American Legion Post 77 of Woodland, as well as a lively, upbeat version of the National Anthem by local singer Terry Sheets, Soto provided some details about the territory PG&E covers, statewide. In all, there are 80,000 miles of PG&E natural gas pipeline, “enough to encircle the Earth three times, every inch of which carries a flammable product.” PG&E is the second largest natural gas company in the country, he noted, and has 24,000 employees.

Anthony Brown, senior assistant business manager with IBEW Local 1245 (representing PG&E employees), was next to the podium and congratulated not only the city of Winters, but other nearby cities too, because the new facility stands to benefit the whole area. Normally stationed at PG&E’s San Ramon facility, Brown says he couldn’t help but be impressed by the sprawling new facility.

“I admit, there’s a little bit of jealousy inside me,” he said. “Hats off to the PG&E leadership.”

Senator Bill Dodd offered praise to the company for its “investment in Winters” as well as its investment in safety. He acknowledged the effort of local officials in steering PG&E toward Winters.

“It was not a straight line,” he said, praising Aguiar-Curry and the city council.

Stating his pride in representing “Winters and this great place behind me here,” Dodd declared that the final result is “first class people doing first class work.”

Mayor Wade Cowan next welcomed everyone to Winters and beyond.

“Welcome to the center of the universe,” he said with a big smile, thanking not only the current city council members, Bill Biasi, Pierre Neu, Harold Anderson and Jesse Loren, but former city council members Woody Fridae and Bruce Guelden, who also participated in bringing PG&E to town. He also told the story about how his next door neighbor, Joe Castro, a PG&E employee, first showed PG&E officials around Winters when the search was on for a training facility site.

When Cowan, a city council member at the time, heard of Castro’s efforts, he said “I couldn’t get to City Hall fast enough to find these two,” pointing to Aguiar-Curry and Donlevy. He noted how unlikely it would be for such a small town to attract such a large project but local officials went full steam ahead anyway.

“We are small, but we have a strong, determined team that gets things done,” he said, offering a smooth segue for Aguiar-Curry to come forward and share her thoughts. However, before doing so, she thanked Senator Jerry Hill, whose constituency includes the San Bruno area.

“Your county has been through a lot,” said Aguiar-Curry. “Thank you for being here.”

Aguiar-Curry noted that longtime Winters residents will always think of the PG&E site as “the McClish property,” but new residents and visitors will see it as “the welcome mat to Winters.” She told of her search for an appropriate site for the facility, explaining that the original site in rural Winters, where PG&E’s natural gas pipeline runs through, was met with objection by neighbors. Although PG&E could have built the facility there on property it already owned, with prompting from city officials it instead chose to purchase the McClish property, located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 505 and Grant Avenue.

She added that the city council and staff had the foresight to build sewer and water infrastructure along the McClish property, making it a more attractive site for business along Grant Avenue. This was an added feature when PG&E came calling. Aguiar-Curry says she was relentless in reaching out to PG&E officials, making sure they understood that “we as a city are committed to a partnership with PG&E.” When the deal was finally sealed, Aguiar-Curry said her reaction was, “Score!”

Donlevy began his comments by noting that “dreams really do come true” and recounted the experience of meeting with PG&E representatives, and watching with Aguiar-Curry and Cowan from the second floor window as they left City Hall following the meeting.

“It was as if we hit the lotto,” said Donlevy, describing their reaction as the “most excited you could ever imagine.”

Like Cowan, Donlevy noted the slim chance a small town had of attracting the new Gas Safety Academy,

“We’re the bug on the windshield compared to some of the other cities,” but he said Winters’ edge was its commitment to creating a partnership with PG&E.

“They found a sweet partner in coming here.”

Calling the new facility a “catalyst project that benefits our community,” Donlevy summarized this new venture as “absolutely stellar,” adding that the facility is “beautiful”and “a lot to be jealous about.” He ended by reiterating the city’s commitment to support PG&E.

“We want it to be successful. We will work with PG&E side by side for decades to come.”

Cowan then returned to the podium to offer some basic statistics about PG&E services before stepping over to fuse the symbolic pipeline between Winters and PG&E with Stavropolous.

He concluded by saying, “From day one, we told PG&E that we were the right partner in what they were trying to accomplish” and declared the city’s dedication in doing whatever it can to help PG&E “achieve your goal of becoming the gas safety leaders.”

Facility tour

Following the official ceremony, all were welcomed on guided tours of the facility, which began in the lobby, where the exloded piece of San Bruno pipeline sits on display, in memory of the horrific event as well as the eight people who died. This display was strategically placed where PG&E employees begin and end their days — a somber reminder that safety is their number one priority.

Down the hallway, mutliple classrooms offered a variety of training opportunities, such as virtual heavy equipment, where employees can experience the movement and feel of excavators and loaders before sitting behind the wheel. The virtual equipment operates similarly to flight simulators used by pilots, creating the “shake, rattle and roll” of real machinery.

In the field service classroom, multiple stations feature gas stoves and ovens, from antique to modern, because PG&E field service employees never know what sort of appliances they may face when called to do a safety check or light a pilot light.

Outside the classrooms are meter stations, where meter readers learn on actual equipment, as well as working on a variety of gas-powered water heaters. Each station has its own simulated gas line meter connecting to the water heaters.

Behind the main building, the “utility village” has several “little houses” already in place, as well as three actual homes still under construction with both raised foundations and cement slabs. Here, employees learn to locate and repair leaks in a real life scenario. This is also where area emergency responders will be brought in to train as well. Part of this training includes locating underground gas pipelines and differentiating them from other utility lines, such as fiber optic lines.

“You have to know which lines are which,” said Luis Faria, who was manning the utility village for the tours. He emphasized that PG&E offers a free service — an 811 telephone line — where anyone can call to find underground natural gas pipelines before digging into the ground. He explained that the training “gas” used in all the indoor and outdoor classrooms is actually compressed air, so there is no danger should an employee under training make the wrong move.

The final stop was the flow lab, allowing employees to practice on every aspect of natural gas delivery – an “end to end simulation.” Employees additionally learn to take apart and rebuild the pipelines, valves and equipment here. Included in the flow lab is a computer center, where employees learn to monitor pressure in gas pipelines and should they notice a sudden change in pressure, they can immediately shut pipelines down anywhere in the state with the touch of a computer key. PG&E’s computer center operates 24-7 to track any sudden change in pipeline pressure.

Some stats

The PG&E Gas Safety Academy is located at One PG&E Way. The 96,000 square-foot facility covers about 30 acres of its 35-acre parcel, located along Grant Avenue across from Matsumoto Lane, adjacent to Interstate 505. In addition to the classrooms, there is also an on-site welding lab and an outdoor site for actual heavy equipment training. The facility has an on-site lunch room, and is contracting with local caterers for food, including the Buckhorn and Anderson Family Catering.

The facility began training employees at the site in mid-August, and a constant inflow of about 150 employees will train there each week. In addition to employees in training, the facility has about 50 on-site employees.

The facility is expected to generate from $300-500,000 in property tax for the City of Winters and Yolo County. The project broke ground in November 2015.

Private tours are available to the public, and may be arranged by calling Brian Trumbull, 925-866-7425.

For more information about PG&E or the Gas Safety Academy, visit www.PGE.com. For information about jobs with PG&E, visit www.PGE.com/careers.

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This is the piece of pipeline that exploded in San Bruno in September 2010, put on display in the new PG&E Gas Safety Academy in Winters, CA, as a reminder that safety is PG&E’s number one priority. Photo by Debra DeAngelo

 

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PG&E staff Luis Faria explains the purpose of the utility village at the new PG&E Gas Safety Academy in Winters, CA. Photo by Debra DeAngelo

 

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PG&E staff Brian Trumbull explains what PG&E employees will learn about in the flow room, which simulates an “end to end” delivery of natural gas. Photo by Debra DeAngelo

 

This is how the new PG&E Gas Safety Academy looks from the street. The company celebrated its grand opening on Wednesday, Sept. 27, in Winters, CA. Photo by Debra DeAngelo
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