As we've covered previously on our blog, Cal Fire found PG&E responsible for a number of fires that occurred last fall in California wine country. Collectively, their actions led to the destruction of thousands of structures, burned tens of thousands of acres, and killed more than a dozen people. It remains to be seen if PG&E will be criminally prosecuted. In 2010, the investor-owned utility was convicted of six felonies in the wake of the San Bruno natural gas explosion that killed 8 people. They were also fined nearly $2 billion.
Last month, PG&E filed with the SEC reporting that they were expecting to pay at least $2.5 billion in payouts this year, both in fines and in the hundreds of lawsuits and wildfire insurance claims they're currently facing. The company admitted that $2.5 billion was a low estimate—they could be facing up to $10 billion in losses. That's why the utility is attempting to force Californians—some hundreds of miles away—to foot the bill.
AB33: Another Way to Dodge the Costs of Failure
Revised legislation introduced in Sacramento would allow PG&E to use state-issued bonds to pay for the costs from last October. Costs include property damage costs, personal injury claims, and fire-fighting costs. How would they pay for the bonds?
By issuing a "non-bypassable" charge to its customers. Non-bypassable fees ensure that even people who largely depend on solar power or who buy electricity from non-PG&E sources would pay the fee. In short, the costs of paying for Napa insurance claims would come from everywhere else.
PG&E's total assets as of December 31, 2017, were $68 billion dollars. However, the revised AB33 specifically includes a section where PG&E insists that the "magnitude of potential damage claims" would bar it from California's "aggressive" wildfire prevention measures. It also says the fee would protect California residents from higher rates in the future.
In essence, the billion-dollar utility is saying it a.) doesn't have enough money to cover the damage it caused and do its job, b.) lays the responsibility on California standards, and c.) claims to be issuing a fee for the benefit of residents.
The bill has already drawn criticism from residents and attorneys all over Northern California.
To read the whole report from KQED, click here.