published on June 21, 2018 - 1:27 PM
Written by ,

(AP) — A Northern California utility said Thursday that it expects to pay at least $2.5 billion in connection with deadly wildfires that whipped through wine country last October — some of them ignited by its fallen power lines.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. also warned that its liability could be considerably higher after state fire officials determine the cause of 21 major fires that devastated the region last year. They killed 44 people, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and wiped out vineyards, marijuana farms and other agricultural operations.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has determined the cause of 14 fires and found the utility’s downed power lines started several.

But state officials have not found what ignited California’s most destructive wildfire, which destroyed more than 5,000 buildings, including 2,800 homes in the town of Santa Rosa that was hardest hit by the deadly flames.

PG&E said it is facing more than 200 lawsuits and expects more. One of the law firms suing the utility has hired celebrity activist Erin Brockovich, whose legal fight against PG&E over water issues was portrayed in a 2000 movie starring Julia Roberts.

Prosecutors also are investigating whether PG&E should be charged with any crimes if it is found to have failed to follow state safety regulations.

A U.S. judge fined the utility $3 million after it was convicted of six felony charges for failing to properly maintain a natural gas pipeline that exploded under a neighborhood south of San Francisco in 2010.

The explosion killed eight people and wiped out a neighborhood in suburban San Bruno. The California Public Utilities Commission also fined PG&E $1.6 billion.

The utility said in a filing Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the $2.5 billion charge tied to the wildfires will be recorded in the quarter ending June 30.

PG&E said the figure is at the low end of its estimated liability, which could exceed $10 billon. The utility said it has about $840 million in insurance for the fires.

PG&E President Geisha Williams said California law holds utilities almost completely responsible for wildfires started by their equipment even if they followed all safety rules.

She called the law “bad public policy” and called on lawmakers to change it to bring the state more in line with the rest of the country, which takes into account the utilities’ safety record.

Williams said extreme weather conditions contributed to the wildfires.

“Years of drought, extreme heat and 129 million dead trees have created a ‘new normal’ for our state that requires comprehensive new solutions,” Williams said.

The San Francisco-based utility’s stock price on Thursday rose 97 cents a share, or 2.43 percent, to $40.97 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.


e-Newsletter Signup

Our weekly poll

Do you agree with Gov. Newsom's decision to tighten lockdown restrictions?

Loading ... Loading ...

Central Valley Biz Blogs

Popup
shares

3/5

Article views

remaining

Sign up icon

To continue website access to

TheBusinessJournal.com

please create a FREE account OR login here.

1/5

Article views

remaining

SKIP THE POP-UPS
For only $59 for one 1-year you will receive the Print edition along with EVERYTHING The Business Journal has to offer digitally, PLUS you will have unlimited 24- hour a day access to view articles at

TheBusinessJournal.com

Use Promo Code

*New Subscribers Only

Digital and Print

XX Days Remaining

until you can view 5 more free articles

Sign up icon

Want access? Subscribe now & save $20 OFF.

Use Promo Code

WEBSUB20

* NEW SUBSCRIBERS ONLY