PG&E Admits ‘Probable’ Link to Deadly Wildfires

by | Mar 1, 2019


PG&E admits it is “probable” that its equipment will be found to have caused the 2018 Camp Fire in California. In a financial statement released this week, the utility acknowledged that, though the cause of the fire is still under investigation, the information previously reported to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) indicates that its own equipment was at fault. Its newly announced Wildfire Safety Plan suggests that customers can expect power to be shut off more frequently due to “extreme weather events.”

Though the utility accepts its equipment was likely to blame for the fire, PG&E disputes a Wall Stree Journal allegation that the company repeatedly delayed maintenance on the transmission line linked to the disaster, Utility Dive reports.

The company’s financial statement said PG&E is including a $10.5 billion pre-tax charge related to third-party claims in connection with the fire, in its full-year and fourth-quarter 2018 financial results. The company is also recording a new $1.0 billion pre-tax charge related to the 2017 Northern California wildfires. PG&E has taken a total of $14 billion in pre-tax charges related to the 2018 Camp Fire and the 2017 Northern California wildfires to date, which reflect the lower end of the range of estimated losses the company faces from such wildfires. Previously announced numbers estimated potential wildfire liabilities could exceed more than $30 billion.

The utility announced plans to file for bankruptcy in January.

Wildfire Precautions

In February, PG&E released its new Wildfire Safety Plan, complete with “enhanced, accelerated, and new programs that PG&E is and will aggressively continue to implement to prevent wildfires in 2019 and beyond.” To address increasing wildfire risk, PG&E believes shutting off power will likely be necessary and may need to be performed more frequently due to the extreme weather events and dry vegetation conditions,” the plan states. To that end, the utility is expanding its Public Safety Power Shutoff program.

Some components of the safety plan include:

  • Coordinating prevention and response efforts by monitoring wildfire risks in real time from a Wildfire Safety Operations Center;
  • Expanding its network of weather stations to enhance weather forecasting and modeling;
  • Supporting the installation of new high-definition cameras in high fire-threat areas;
  • Enhancing its vegetation management efforts to increase focus on vegetation that poses a higher potential for wildfire risk;
  • Conducting accelerated inspections of electric infrastructure in high fire-threat areas;
  • Disabling automatic reclosing of circuit breakers and reclosers in high fire-risk areas during wildfire season;
  • Proactively turning off electric power for safety as a last resort where extreme fire danger conditions are forecasted.

Risk Resilience

To improve its resilience to the risks it faces from wildfires and weather-related events, the company says it will make upgrades to its systems, including installing stronger and more resilient poles and covered power lines, targeted undergrounding, and upgrading or replacing electric equipment when necessary.

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