California Lawmakers Seek to Stop ‘Negligent’ Utilities from Hiking Rates After Disasters
By Paul Payne
A bill introduced by state lawmakers would prohibit electric utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. from passing on to ratepayers litigation costs or fines associated with their own negligence, creating protections for consumers in the wake of the October wildfires.
The legislation was prompted in part by a failed November effort by San Diego Gas & Electric to raise rates on its customers to cover $379 million in uninsured damages from 2007 fires. The California Public Utilities Commission rejected the increase but said the decision was not precedent-setting and future requests would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Supporters said Senate Bill 819, introduced Wednesday by a delegation including North Coast lawmakers, would bring consistency, banning all hikes to cover fines, penalties or uninsured expenses resulting from operational mistakes.
The bill comes as hundreds of Northern California residents sue PG&E for wildfires beginning Oct. 8 that charred 250,000 acres, destroyed 9,000 homes and killed 44 people, causing $9 billion in damage. Cal Fire investigators have yet to determine a cause but the suits allege PG&E’s failure to maintain power lines and the trees around them is to blame.