PG&E Launches Multi-Pronged Effort to Pass Wildfire Costs on to Customers

May 04, 2018

Napa Valley Register
By George Avalos
Bay Area News Group

PG&E executives said Thursday that the utility will wage a multi-front battle to upend rules that now make it harder to pass the costs of wildfire liabilities along to customers in the form of higher monthly energy bills.

The San Francisco-based utility could be on the hook for costs from the deadly Wine Country wildfires, but its executives believe the existing legal framework that curbs its ability to recoup such costs from customers isn’t fair.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, a Democrat whose district includes portions of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, harshly criticized PG&E’s quest, however, warning that customers could suffer as a result.

Current California laws and the application of a complex policy known as “inverse condemnation” require PG&E and other utility giants to compensate people whose property was damaged by the utility’s equipment. The companies are on the financial hook even if fire investigators can’t prove that the utility’s negligence — such as failing to cut back vegetation or improper equipment maintenance — caused the fires. That is what PG&E seeks to change.

Geisha Williams, PG&E’s chief executive officer, said in a prepared release that the company has made progress in “advocating for more appropriate public policies regarding wildfire liability.”

But Hill said, “Without inverse condemnation, the sky is the limit on utility bills.”