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Warning to anyone in the PG&E coverage area that needs a new main service panel

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
1,543
903
East Bay NorCal
TLDR, if you need a new main service panel to get solar installed, be extra careful when dealing with PG&E to get the permission; especially if you have a gas riser/meter near the main service panel.


Yesterday was supposed to be my installation date after months of waiting for PG&E to approve my service disconnect to get a new main service panel. This was for 8 kW PV and 3 PW2 ESS.

I spent weeks working with a PG&E representative in their Diablo Service Planning office to get approval. They recognized I was swapping a 200 A rated panel with a new 200 A rated panel and I was doing this as a green initiative. Furthermore, the existing recess in my wall would be used for the change.

When the PG&E truck-technician showed up to do the disconnect, he told the site foreman that he didn't like what he saw. He said he was overruling the determination of the person I had worked weeks with and making a "overriding field assessment". He informed dispatch and informed the work crew that if the new 200 A rated main service panel were installed in the existing location, he would not reconnect service.

The problem he saw is that my existing main service panel is rated as 200 A and sits 28 inches away from my gas riser (the pipe coming out of the ground). Per PG&E's Greenbook , the minimum safe distance is 36 inches. Since 28 is less than 36 inches, putting in a new 200 A main service panel in the same spot was deemed "unsafe".

The PG&E tech didn't speak with me, or make a call back to the Diablo Office to get a confirmation. He just shut off my power, threatened the crew to not touch the panel unless they were moving it 8 inches, then left. As you can imagine, the crew couldn't proceed with any of the installation since now there was a potential $7k "lift and shift" in play. Sunrun told the crew to pack it up and leave.

Anyway, the Greenbook provides a "like for like" provision so existing homes can get a benefit so long as they're not increasing the size of the panel or adding loads. This helps people get grandfathered in and not get dinged with a big cost if they're not adding to their service.

1.16.2:

Replacing service and metering equipment with new equipment of the exact
same ampacity (e.g., 100 amps to 100 amps) and similar dimensions is
considered a “like-for-like” replacement and typically is not considered an
upgrade
.

The new service and metering equipment should have similar, but
not exact, dimensions. Individual meter sockets (see Figure 6-5, “Individual
Meter Socket,” and Figure 6-6, “Combination Meter Socket Load Center,”
on Page 6-9) without an attached termination section do not qualify as
like-for-like installation and must meet the requirements of the upgraded
panel.

The new service and metering equipment must be positioned so the existing
PG&E service conductors can be reconnected properly. The new equipment
also must be positioned to ensure that clearances are not reduced to gas
facilities, water sources, or obstructions. If PG&E needs to install additional
service conductors or cables to perform the reconnect, the work and
material is the applicant’s responsibility.

A like-for-like does not have to meet the current Greenbook requirements if
the safety, existing clearances, or accessibility of the panel location is not
compromised. For example, structures (e.g., decks, remodeled buildings)
built over or around existing panels may not be energized if they do not
meet PG&E requirements for safe working conditions.


I finally got to speak with the PG&E truck technician when he came back to turn on my power. Of course he saw no work was completed and was very pleased.

He explained that he thought Sunrun was abusing the like-for-like language. He said the like-for-like was intended for a homeowner to get a damaged panel replaced, or for someone to do a simple repair to a broken meter socket. He said since I was clearly doing a "home improvement project" then the like for like would not apply. He said 36" is the minimum safe distance, and he must enforce the safety requirement. He said he was sorry another PG&E rep would accidentally make the mistake of approving like-for-like.

I highlighted the points that he argued with me. He said like for like could still be rejected and guarantees the homeowner no protection. He also said that if 36" is the only safe distance, then the only way like-for-like could work in a safe way is if the new panel were 36" away from the gas riser.

PG&E sucks.

My previous thread about trying to get PG&E approval for a "like for like" 200 A panel change:
For those in Norcal: How long does it take PG&E to approve a 200A service?
 

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Vines

Active Member
Jul 20, 2018
1,876
2,205
Silicon Valley, CA
Wow, that's pretty dirty of the PGE rep in my opinion the lineman is in the wrong here.

I suspect some bad blood between him or Sunrun. the company I work for has done many like for like swaps and are allowed to be within the gas riser clearances, as long as its not worse than it was, and there's no change to the riser. Unlucky for you man, sorry.

Another user had a different kind of gas vent installed which allowed equipment to be closer to the riser. You could explore having that electronic vent installed instead.

Really though you or Sunrun just need to escalate this with PGE to the managers, likely this will be reversed.
 

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
1,543
903
East Bay NorCal
Wow, that's pretty dirty of the PGE rep in my opinion the lineman is in the wrong here.

I suspect some bad blood between him or Sunrun. the company I work for has done many like for like swaps and are allowed to be within the gas riser clearances, as long as its not worse than it was, and there's no change to the riser. Unlucky for you man, sorry.

Another user had a different kind of gas vent installed which allowed equipment to be closer to the riser. You could explore having that electronic vent installed instead.

Really though you or Sunrun just need to escalate this with PGE to the managers, likely this will be reversed.


I escalated it yesterday and was told by the higher up that “they have to trust their technicians and linemen”.
 

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
1,543
903
East Bay NorCal
Guess its the electronic vent for you, sucks.
Either that or someone needs to find damage on the existing panel such that it is not safe.

Does the vent satisfy the UL class I division 2 requirement? I got a quote for a NEMA 7 rated explosion proof enclosure for the MSP and that’s almost $7k.
 

Vines

Active Member
Jul 20, 2018
1,876
2,205
Silicon Valley, CA
I am researching it but I cannot say. I think it just reduces the possibility of vented gases escaping, therefore reducing the clearance requirement to 18", rather than 36"

Its the thread where the customer is building a walking pad above some air conditioning lines to solve another working space problem, I cant remember the exact one at the moment.

Ask him for details and share them with us, I am interested to see how it goes.
 

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
1,543
903
East Bay NorCal
Ok I'll ping @CalMdl3 about that "slam shutoff" valve. I have one of those earthquake shutoff valves on my home already, but this is on my side of the gas meter and wouldn't help if there's a leak from the riser.

lfAGV-75-x.jpg
 

SMAlset

Well-Known Member
Mar 4, 2017
9,072
9,787
SF Bay Area
I was kind of shocked to see you still having trouble getting your solar/pw installed. I'm sure at this point moving to another house would have seemed easier. Sorry you are struggling with this. I would have thought substituting the same MP (assume this one with a 225A bus?) would have counted for "same".
 

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
1,543
903
East Bay NorCal
I was kind of shocked to see you still having trouble getting your solar/pw installed. I'm sure at this point moving to another house would have seemed easier. Sorry you are struggling with this. I would have thought substituting the same MP (assume this one with a 225A bus?) would have counted for "same".

I've had my county permit since early August. The 3.5 month delay to mid November was caused by PG&E who refused to approve my 200 A main service panel.

And keep in mind my monthly energy bill during the hot summer months was nearing $500. PG&E knows how to trap their "best customers" into being stuck with them.
 

jboy210

Supporting Member
Dec 2, 2016
5,103
3,172
Northern California
I've had my county permit since early August. The 3.5 month delay to mid November was caused by PG&E who refused to approve my 200 A main service panel.

And keep in mind my monthly energy bill during the hot summer months was nearing $500. PG&E knows how to trap their "best customers" into being stuck with them.
It will all be worth it in the end. Our bills were also in the $500/mo in mid-summer. Now with solar and powerwalls, they are under $50. I smile every time I see the power bill.
 

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
1,543
903
East Bay NorCal
I am researching it but I cannot say. I think it just reduces the possibility of vented gases escaping, therefore reducing the clearance requirement to 18", rather than 36"

Its the thread where the customer is building a walking pad above some air conditioning lines to solve another working space problem, I cant remember the exact one at the moment.

Ask him for details and share them with us, I am interested to see how it goes.


Looks like his situation is different than mine. PG&E put a new vent regulator on which seems to be more of a thing to avoid over-pressurization.

PG&E said the only way other than like-for-like to get the main service panel 18 inches (but not closer) to the riser would be to make the device Class I Division 2 compliant. Hence the NEMA 7 or NEMA 9 enclosure.

The engineer for Greybar said a residential request of a NEMA 7 application was stupid and thought I was pranking him.
 

holeydonut

Supporting Member
Jun 27, 2020
1,543
903
East Bay NorCal
It will all be worth it in the end. Our bills were also in the $500/mo in mid-summer. Now with solar and powerwalls, they are under $50. I smile every time I see the power bill.


This is what the lineman was saying to me. He said me going solar was taking money from PG&E. So if I want to go green I need to pay the extra to make it “right” instead of abusing the like-for-like program.

So yes, I agree with @Vines that the lineman has beef with sunrun and used the power he had as a lineman to block my install and set me back a month. That’s more money for PG&E.

Yes I’ve filed a complaint with the CPUC. No, I don’t expect them to give a damn.
 

BGbreeder

Member
Jun 19, 2020
238
133
Bay Area
FWIW: Having gone to the PUC with non-PG&E utility issues, my experience is they take a very tight reading of the letter of the law. In my cases, that once resulted in a, for lack of a better description, reprimand letter to the utility, in one case escalated oversight of the issue to the utility's executive suite (which eventually resulted in the desired repair, and a site visit by the local engineering manager to say that issue wasn't their fault- the wires were old and not up to the task. Their wires, I might add.), and in a third case, a "we found no infraction of the law" letter to me.

All in all, it was not exactly earthshaking or very satisfying to me in the end.
Did contacting them move a lingering issue along? Yes.
Did it alter egregious behavior? No.
Did it bring the utility in compliance with PUC oversight recommendations? No.

Would I do it again? Yes, but just because I know it generates a file history to give advocates within the PUC documented issues.

I hope that yours is resolved in a timely manner, in your favor.

All the best,

BG
 

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