Pacific Gas & Electric filed a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was estimating at least $2.5 billion in payouts in connection with the California wine country wildfires last year. The filing also said that $2.5 billion is at the low end of the estimates—we've reported before that PG&E could be facing up to $10 billion in liability. More than 200 homeowners are (rightfully) holding the utility responsible for some of the worst fires.
Earlier this month, our firm reported that Cal Fire had found PG&E directly responsible for massive damage, including the loss of 18 lives and the destruction of more than 2,500 structures. Their power lines were far too close to surrounding trees, many of which were dead and dry due to a long dry season. In at least one case, PG&E's attempts to charge up one of their lines ignited a fire. While the cause of the most destructive fire—the Tubbs fire—is still being investigated, PG&E is responsible for at least 12 of them. In 8 of them, investigators discovered that PG&E had violated safety laws. Prosecutors are considering charging California's largest utility with a crime.
PG&E Fights Back, but Feebly
Geisha Williams, PG&E President, complained that California law unfairly holds utilities responsible when their equipment causes wildfires—regardless of whether they violated safety regulations. She wants California lawmakers to model utility policies on other states' laws, which take into account a company's safety record.
PG&E, of course, is the company that was convicted of six felonies when their unsafe maintenance practices caused a natural gas pipe to explode in San Bruno underneath a residential neighborhood. The explosion killed 8 people, prompting a criminal trial and nearly $2 billion in fines. PG&E is also notable for being the villain of the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, based on the true story of a small town in California whose contaminated water made many of them terminally ill.
We'll end today's blog with a word from a resident whose home was destroyed by the fires, Marc Selivanoff: "If somebody contributed or caused my loss, they should help me rebuild." We couldn't have put it better.