NAPA (CBS SF) — The California Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that defines power shut-offs during wildfires as local emergencies, meaning governmental bodies can recover expenses.

Senate Bill 52, authored by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, makes clear that shut-offs are eligible for financial assistance from the Emergency Services Act.

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“Shutting off the power to prevent wildfires has become an unfortunate reality here in California,” Dodd said. “But doing so carries significant costs. My bill ensures these de-energizations are classified as local emergencies, allowing local agencies to recover expenses from available funding.”

PG&E began issuing Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) during wildfires two years ago. Investigations found that the utility’s outdated equipment had a role in the 2015 Butte Fire, the 2017 NorCal wildfires, the 2018 Camp Fire and the 2019 Kincade Fire. PG&E settled a series of lawsuits over its role in those fires for $13.5 billion in 2020.

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Senate Bill 52 passed 36-0 Thursday. Several groups supported its passage, including Napa County, California Fire Chiefs Association, Fire Districts Association of California, Regional Council of Rural Counties, Disability Rights California and the California Association of Public Authorities.

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“Public safety power shutoffs, when implemented with accuracy and precision, can be an effective tool to reduce the chance of wildfires,” said Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon. “But these events result in disruptions across communities and the need for increased coordination between local agencies to respond even when no wildfires result. Making it clear that a PSPS constitutes an emergency will provide much-needed relief to local governments like Napa County, which can incur significant costs when power shut-offs are announced.”