When Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) demanded from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) an account on how Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) spent the money it was authorized for replacing aging natiural gas pipelines, she received a vague response - the CPUC said PG&E underspent its authorized budget by $183 million but it didn't know where the remaining money went.

The CPUC said PG&E spent $183 million less than the total it was authorized by the state between 1987 and 1999, but the commission don't know exactly where the unused money went.

Last year, the PG&E gas transmission line exploded in San Bruno on Sept. 9, killing 8 people and destroying 38 homes. preliminary investigation suggested that the pipeline ruptured at a defective weld.

PG&E's old pipelines are in desparate need of repairs but they can't be inspected with the most modern technique - a device called a smart pig, which is bristling with sensors and is run through the interior of a pipe

Moreover, PG&E is unable to find complete documentation confirming the safety of maximum pressure levels for about one-fourth of its transmission pipelines in and around urban areas.

The Public Utilities Commission told Speier's office that PG&E had developed an effort known as the Gas Pipeline Replacement program in 1984 and the commission had approved it in 1987. Under the program, PG&E could collect money from the customers to finance it.

At Speier's request, the commission reviewed its records and found that from 1987 to 1999 it had granted PG&E $183 million more in funds...than was actually spent on the program.

The commission has suggested that PG&E probably spent the unaccounted money on other operational needs or kept (it) for retained earnings. However, it could not confirm what actually happened to that money.

Speier's district director Richard Steffen said they will investigate what happened to the unaccounted money.

The story is not over. It is far from over, Steffen said.

PG&E could not be reached for comments.