PG&E May Boost Customers's Bills to Cover Cost of Wildfires
By George Avalos
Bay Area News Group
PG&E ratepayers could face higher monthly bills if the utility’s insurance doesn’t cover all of its costs from wildfires that torched the North Bay’s Wine Country and killed 43 people, company executives warned Thursday.
PG&E has $800 million in insurance to cover any liabilities for the Wine Country fires. The company stated during a conference call with analysts that it would ask the state Public Utilities Commission to let it boost customers’ monthly power bills if actual North Bay fire expenses exceed its insurance coverage.
“Our costs over and above insurance coverage should be shared by all customers,” Geisha Williams, PG&E’s chief executive officer, said during the call.
PG&E’s vow to seek higher monthly bills from ratepayers was quickly lambasted by state Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat whose legislative district includes portions of Santa Clara County and San Mateo County.
“This is outrageous that PG&E is seeking a rate hike,” Hill said. “Where I draw the line is if it was shown that it was due to their negligence, as was the case in previous tragedies, then ratepayers should not be held liable for PG&E’s negligence.”
PG&E ratepayers also face higher monthly bills from the utility’s liabilities for the devastating Butte fire in September 2015, if the company gets its way. PG&E’s insurance to cover that blaze, which roared through portions of Amador and Calaveras counties, had a ceiling of $922 million. But PG&E said its costs from third-party claims were at least $1.1 billion and would go higher.
“We would expect to see recovery from customers for that excess amount, and we have already filed to do so,” Jason Wells, PG&E’s chief financial officer, stated during the call.