SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) — PG&E executives went to Sacramento Thursday to push for a new law that would let utilities off the financial hook for wildfires caused by their equipment, as long as that equipment met safety standards.
At a hearing of the bipartisan Conference Committee on Wildfire Preparedness and Response Thursday, heated questions and emotional fireworks all centered around inverse condemnation. The term refers to utilities being held strictly liable for wildfires caused by their equipment whether they are negligent or not.
“I’d like to ask PG&E what they spent the money on because we have significant devastation,” said state Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Riverside County).
“Why should we reduce their liability and expect they’re going to do more,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara County).
The 2017 wildfires are costing utility companies billions. Which is why those companies want the state to change the rules.
“Yesterday’s laws are not going to protect us from tomorrow’s wildfires or even today’s wildfires,” said PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo.
If the utilities get their way, they could still be held accountable if found negligent. But that requires a much higher burden of proof placed on the shoulders of cities, counties and homeowners to prove their case and receive compensation.
“PG&E wants off the hook,” said Patrick McCallum, who lost his home in the Tubbs Fire last year. “They want to be able to place their pole but not pay you if it starts a fire.”
“This is a law that’s been on the books for a very long time and it does not stand up to the conditions we face right now,” said Paulo. “If the utility is negligent it should be held accountable, but if the utility has followed all the state’s high safety standards then those costs should not be put on the electric customers. Electric customers should not be the insurers of last resort.”
PG&E says, without change, they estimate ratepayers will be charged an additional $150 dollars more a year to offset costs.