SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — The parent company of California’s largest utility said Friday it is assessing its finances and structure in its effort to confront a growing liability threat from wildfires blamed on the company.
Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. could face billions of dollars in potential liability involving massive wildfires in California — some of which have already been linked to equipment operated by the company.
Citing “people familiar with the matter,” Reuters reported PG&E was also considering filing for bankruptcy protection for some or all of its businesses.
News of the possibly bankruptcy filing sent shares of PG&E plummeting in after-hours trading on Friday.
PG&E announced the assessment of its finances in a news release that did not elaborate on any potential plans.
However, the company said its board of directors is looking for new members and engaging outside experts for advice on wildfire safety.
“We want to tap fresh perspectives and additional expertise to help address the changing nature of PG&E’s business and the challenges it faces now and in the future,” the board said in a statement.
National Public Radio , citing an anonymous company official and a former employee, reported that PG&E is exploring selling off its natural gas division — a major part of the company — to set up a fund for potential wildfire claims.
It is also looking into selling real estate assets, including its San Francisco headquarters, NPR reported.
State senator Jerry Hill was mostly positive about the prospects of a breakup.
“Spinning off their gas and electric systems, they will become a size they can manage. I think what we’ve seen over the last few years is they’ve become too big to succeed,” Hill told KPIX 5’s Andria Borba.
The utility is facing numerous lawsuits involving wildfire losses and scrutiny of its power line safety by a U.S. judge overseeing a separate criminal case against it.
State fire investigators blamed the utility’s power lines for causing several wildfires in October 2017.
Investigators have not determined the cause of a massive wildfire that destroyed the town of Paradise in November. PG&E reported an outage around the time and place that the fire ignited.
The fire killed at least 86 people and was the deadliest in California history.
Millbrae attorney Amanda Riddle represents more than 700 Camp Fire victims who lost homes. She says bankruptcy only harms those folks even more — likely leaving many without enough money to rebuild.
“The victims would be compensated nowhere near what they should be entitled to in a court of law,” Riddle said.
© 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5’s Andria Borba and the Associated Press contributed to this report