The Real Deal Los Angeles

Utility companies were behind 2,000 fires in recent years but have rarely been fined

California lawmakers are weighing new measures to help prevent fires and hold utilities accountable for violations
January 28, 2019 09:00AM

The deadly Camp Fire burns in Butte County (Credit: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman)

California’s three largest utility companies caused more than 2,000 fires in recent years but were fined just nine times for electrical safety violations.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which announced plans earlier this month to file for bankruptcy over $30 billion in potential liabilities related to wildfires, reported 1,552 equipment-related fires from June 2014 to the end of 2017, according to the Los Angeles Times. It was fined $8.3 million over that period.

Southern California Edison, which supplies electricity for L.A. County and the surrounding areas, reported 347 fires over that period and was fined $15 million. To the south, San Diego Gas & Electric reported 115 fires. Most of the fires the companies’ reported were less than 10 acres in size.

Following destructive fires across California, lawmakers are now questioning how the state regulates the utilities industry.

As of now, it’s largely up to the utility companies themselves to ensure trees and vegetation near electrical equipment are properly trimmed. The state has never fined a company for safety violations. It’s only after an investigation into a fire finds wrongdoing that utility companies are fined.

State lawmakers have proposed creating new prevention guidelines and tasking a state representative to monitor safety. Some lawmakers want to create new state agency to oversee safety.

“We’re in a new reality now,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins told the Times. “It is our responsibility to evaluate it all. Working together with the governor, I think we realize change needs to happen.” [LAT]Dennis Lynch