For those of us living in California, we have a lot of questions when it comes to the future of PG&E. Will they go bankrupt and if so, where will our electricity come from? How can PG&E prevent future fires? If PG&E is tight on funds, is it worth filing a lawsuit? Will there be payouts? The future of PG&E is clearly very complicated, and hopefully we can address some of these questions that you may have.
Will PG&E Go Bankrupt?
PG&E will most likely NOT go bankrupt. The State of California has recently passed a bill in September (yes, even before the Camp Fire) called SB901 which would bailout PG&E and prevent them from going bankrupt by passing on the bill to its customers. This bill was designed to put the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in charge of deciding when customers would pay more for their utilities to help cover PG&E’s incredibly high debt. The PUC has “to do a complete fiscal analysis, independent of PG&E, and nothing comes from ratepayers until PG&E pays the maximum amount they can pay and still remain in business,” explains State Sen. Bill Dodd. However, State Sen. Jerry Hill has a different perspective: “Before we know what PG&E’s liabilities are, we’ve already given a bailout and that’s wrong. What we voted on last night was to allow PG&E, if they are negligent and can’t afford to pay that liability, we will pass that cost onto ratepayers, make them pay for it.”
So California and its residents will probably keep the company in business making the second question – Where will our electricity come from? – moot. (But in the 2000-2001 California electricity shortage, the additional energy was sold by unregulated, private power plants like Enron… but that’s another story for another day.)
How Can PG&E Prevent Future Fires?
It was recently reported by PG&E’s own inspectors that they “found a ‘broken C-hook’ on a high-voltage tower near the community of Pulga, northeast of Paradise,” reports the Sacramento Bee. “Lawyers for Camp Fire survivors suing PG&E have suggested the broken hook might have allowed a live ‘jumper’ cable to make contact with the tower itself, showering the dry ground below with sparks.”
A power pole in the Big Bend area of Concow several miles away was on the ground with bullets and bullet holes in it. “In addition, the utility said that a PG&E employee patrolling Concow Road northeast of Paradise four days after the fire saw ‘wires down and damaged and downed poles at the intersection of Concow Road and Rim Road. This location is within the Camp Fire footprint. At this location, the employee observed several snapped trees, with some on top of the downed wires,” shared the Sacramento Bee.
Clearly maintaining the safety of the equipment should be at the top of PG&E’s to do list. Other strategies that have been recommended are to more aggressively clear brush and trees away from transmission lines, swap wooden power poles for metal and set up a network of remote cameras to keep an eye out for harsh weather and other dangers that can increase fire risk. PG&E could also have cut the power when the weather forecasts indicated high winds, but they didn’t. Burying power lines is another option, but it is costly and will take a lot of time.
PG&E is currently submitting a proposal to the PUC to, “seek $1.06 billion in additional revenues for 2020, $454 million in 2021 and $486 million in 2022” for “safety measures and wildfire prevention” reported KPIX News. “The increase would not include money PG&E might have to pay for lawsuits connected with recent wildfires. PG&E also said funds from the rate increase would not go towards executive compensation.” This would breakdown into about $10.57 per month in 2020 for PG&E customers.
PG&E and California’s PUC need to clearly sit down and determine which options are most viable because California and her residents are already maxed out financially and emotionally from the recent devastation.
If PG&E is Tight On Funds, is it Worth Filing a Lawsuit? Will There be Settlements?
Many people have wondered, “If people sue PG&E, will customers have to pay to cover PG&E’s losses?” After the last few years of wildfires, Californians are already seeing rate hikes and will probably see more (as mentioned above). However, big companies like PG&E have money put aside to handle claims. If we don’t pursue PG&E and hold them liable, fire survivors who have lost everything will still be struggling while PG&E will get to keep these allocated funds.
Evidence has shown that PG&E is liable for their malfunctioning equipment that has left hundreds of thousands of acres destroyed, thousands of people left without their homes and belongings, and over 100 people have lost their lives. Many of survivors are left wondering where they’re going to live, how they’re going to replace their most basic needs, and others are struggling with PTSD and are just trying to face each new day. These survivors need additional funding to get back on their feet, and PG&E should be held accountable for the devastation that they caused.
“PG&E fighting for its future amid complex web of legal, regulatory challenges”. San Francisco Chronicle. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.sfchronicle.com/california-wildfires/article/PG-E-fighting-for-its-future-amid-complex-web-of-13436074.php
“California bill passes PG&E fire liability on to customers”. ABC30. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://abc30.com/california-bill-passes-pg-e-fire-liability-on-to-customers/4122623/
“Power Companies Must Do More To Fireproof Their Equipment”. Patch.com. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://patch.com/california/sacramento/power-companies-must-do-more-fireproof-their-equipment
“PG&E Seeks Rate Increases; Average Monthly Bills Would Rise Over $10”. KPIX News. Accessed December 17, 2018. https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2018/12/14/pge-seeks-rate-increases-2020/