Governor Brown Signs Utility Wildfire Bailout Bill / by Norris McDonald

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that aids Pacific Gas & Electric in covering the costs of last year’s devastating Wine Country wildfires — passing along some of the burden to ratepayers in the process.

The bill, SB 901, will enable PG&E to issue state-authorized bonds to settle more than 200 wildfire-related lawsuits filed by 2,700 plaintiffs against the utility. Higher electricity bills will help repay the bonds.

In June, PG&E said it would post $2.5 billion in charges against its profit to cover losses from the fires.

The law also requires power companies to implement fire prevention strategies by improving their infrastructure and conduction “projects to improve overall forest health and resistance to wildfires,” according to a statement. The higher standards of whether the utilities adequately maintain their power lines will be overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission.

The wildfires that ravaged Northern California in October killed 44 people and destroyed as many as 8,900 structures and 6,100 vehicles. The state tallied nearly $10 billion in commercial and residential insurance claims, with estimates for total damages as high as $15 billion. (San Francisco Business Times, 9/24/2018)