09/15/2019

PG&E may not survive latest wildfire without more state help

How much of wildfire costs not covered by insurance should be paid by California’s giant investor-owner utilities has been a significant issue since at least 2007. That’s when wildfires ravaged northern and eastern San Diego County, killing two people and destroying more than 1,300 homes.

San Diego Gas & Electric argued that it should be allowed to pass on $379 million in related costs. But the California Public Utilities Commission and state courts – noting the evidence that poorly maintained equipment had been blamed for much of the damage in two state investigations – have rebuffed SDG&E. The utility’s most recent setback came just last week when the state 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego rejected a call to overturn previous rulings.

But during SDG&E’s long fight for a utility-favorable interpretation of liability laws, the debate has become far more high-profile. With six of California’s all-time 10 worst wildfires occurring since September 2015 in areas served by Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, the question of what to do to keep the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities in business has emerged as one of the thorniest, most contentious issues in Sacramento.

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