Utilities spending millions to persuade California lawmakers to protect them from wildfire costs

Pacific Gas and Electric, with possibly billions of dollars in liabilities, has led the charge

Jan.January 07, 2019 10:15 AM
Geisha J. Williams CEO and President of PG&E Corporation, and U.S. Army Spc. Joaquin Carrasco conducting a search and debris clearing operation after deadly camp fire (Credit: PG&E and Flickr)

California’s utility providers are spending tens of millions of dollars to compel state lawmakers to protect them from the costs incurred in last year’s Camp Fire and other devastating wildfires.

The companies, including Pacific Gas and Electric, want the state legislature to let them pass on the costs of the fires to their customers, according to the New York Times. PG&E, the largest of the companies, could be on the hook for up to $30 million in damages to customers for causing fires over the last two years.

Last year, PG&E successfully lobbied the state to let the company pass on its 2017 damages to customers, who would pay about $5 extra on the typical $100 monthly bill for every $1 billion needed to cover damages.

The company spent $8.4 million lobbying state lawmakers in the first nine months of 2018 alone, or more than five times more than they spent the previous two years. A trio of other providers spent $5 million over first nine months of 2018 as well.

PG&E’s stock dropped more than 60 percent after it disclosed there were equipment failures near the origin of the Camp Fire, which suggests those failures may have caused or contributed to the devastating blaze.

The Camp Fire killed at least 86 people and forced tens of thousands from their homes.

Los Angeles is one of the most vulnerable counties in the state. Around 114,000 structures are located within the highest fire-risk zone.

A bankruptcy for PG&E or other utility companies could be a major blow for consumers and California’s economy. Not only would California’s energy security be put in jeopardy, but investors might become wary of getting involved in California’s utilities sector.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in December that his office could charge PG&E for its role in the fire if an investigation reveals the company engaged in “reckless” behavior, according to the Times. [New York Times] – Dennis Lynch

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