Pacific Gas & Electric Co. officials have stopped using lead-based paint on large transmission towers and soon will begin a project to strip and repaint 6,000 lead-based-paint-coated towers across the company's service area.
Though outlawed for residential use decades ago, lead-based paint still is able to be used for industrial purposes, like the large steel structures used to support high-voltage electrical wires. The paint prevents the corrosion of steel structures.
“We want to be the leading utility in terms of being an environmental leader and an environmental steward. We care about the health and safety of our customers, employees and the environment,” said Nicole Liebelt, corporate communications principal for PG&E.
The idea to stop using lead paint, and to remove and replace it from its tower system, was born after a review of its current maintenance plans.
“We’ve taken a top-to-bottom look at all of our electric transmission towers throughout the service area,” Liebelt said. “This is a proactive step to make sure that we are using cleaner and safer materials.”
PG&E has 46,000 total large transmission towers in its grid, which stretches from the Central Coast to the Oregon border.
“We know that our customers expect and deserve that kind of safe and reliable service,” Liebelt said. “Some of my colleagues are surprised to find that lead-based paint is still used in industrial and commercial settings.”
Utilities across the nation have used lead-based paint for its anti-corrosive qualities, Liebelt said, but PG&E is one of the first utilities to take a programmatic approach to stopping the paint's use and repainting towers.
Once work starts, PG&E officials estimate that the work to scrape the lead paint, clean and repaint the transmission towers will take about three to five days.
"We will remove any peeling paint with hand tools with a HEPA filter vacuum attached. We will lay down tarps under the tower that will catch any debris that may come off of the tower,” Liebelt explained.
PG&E crews also will test the soil underneath the towers for any lead contamination.
“If there are impacts to the soil beneath the tower, we will replace that soil with new organic soil. We will remove any impacted soil and dispose of it at an appropriate disposal facility,” Liebelt said.
The lead-based paint will be replaced with an acrylic product, and the power company has two colors to choose from -- light gray or light green.
“If a tower is in a forested area, it might be green,” Liebelt explained.
PG&E has 328 large transmission towers in Santa Barbara County. Of those towers, six have lead-based paint, and five are in the city of Santa Maria, along Railroad Avenue.
“Our newer towers are made of galvanized steel and don’t need a coating. Some of our towers have been in service since the early 1900s,” Liebelt said.
Work crews will have to turn off the power to towers that are being stripped and repainted, but Liebelt said electric customers won’t see any interruptions in their electric service. Power will be detoured to other towers.
Liebelt said the lead-based paint removal project will be part of the regular maintenance program and will be paid for from its already established maintenance funds.
The total cost to repaint 6,000 transmission towers will be about $300 million to 400 million, according to Liebelt.
“Maintenance is included in customer rates already,” Liebelt said. “For 2017, it is approximately 9 cents per month for this program.”
For more information about the program, contact PG&E by calling 888-208-6010 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Representatives have committed to respond within one business day.
PG&E also has created a website about the project at pge.com/towers.