In a gross miscarriage of justice and a classic case of business-as-usual, the California utility that has been accused of starting multiple California wildfires is getting the governor’s not to pass the high cost of this national emergency on to its customers by raising rates.
The Colorado Camp Fire of 2018 began on November 8 in the Northern California county of Butte.
The Camp Fire was the most destructive and lethal wildfire in California’s history. The conflagration “caused at least 85 civilian fatalities, with 3 persons still missing, and injured 12 civilians, two prison inmate firefighters, and three other firefighters. It covered an area of 153,336 acres (62,053 ha) (almost 240 sq. miles), and destroyed 18,804 structures, with most of the damage occurring within the first four hours.”
Total property damage came in at $16.5 billion of which $4 million (one-quarter) was uninsured.
It took 17 days of round-the-clock fire fighting activity to contain the Camp Fire.
An “urban firestorm” destroyed utterly the foothill community named Paradise. Here are before and after images of the small town:
On November 9 – the day after the Camp Fire started – the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a report which advised PG&E that damage claims from the fire they allegedly started might drive them to bankruptcy:
“While the cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation, if the Utility’s equipment is determined to be the cause, the Utility could be subject to significant liability in excess of insurance coverage that would be expected to have a material impact on PG&E Corporation’s and the Utility’s financial condition, results of operations, liquidity, and cash flows.”
On November 18, 2018, Oakland lawyer Michael Danko filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of plaintiffs from Paradise and the surrounding area who all lost property – their homes and belongings.
With a Cal Fire investigation ongoing to determine the official cause of the devastating blaze, Danko called the evidence “pretty overwhelming” that PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) had started the fire.
“In this case, we know an awful lot,” Danko said.
The Camp Fire victims group suing PG&E alleged in their complaint:
“Rather than spend the money it obtains from customers for infrastructure maintenance and safety, PG&E funnels this funding to boost its own corporate profits and compensation.”
PG&E’s stock (PCG) has tumbled since the Camp Fire ravaged California communities and countrysides, burning down wineries and vast tracts of forest. Consumer confidence fell from nearly $50 per share to a low of $5; PCG is currently trading below $14 a share.
There is a strong case against PG&E regarding the Camp Fire, according to Danko:
“We have the neighbor who got the email concerning the sparking wires. We have the witnesses who saw the fire start on a transmission line. And most importantly, we have the report that PG&E was required to make by law to the CPUC, reporting an outage minutes before the witnesses saw the fire start under the transmission lines. So the evidence already is pretty overwhelming.”
An official corporate document filed by PG&E on November 8 reported an electric safety incident: a transmission line “experienced an outage.”
This is not the first time PG&E has been in the hot seat regarding setting California on fire. Cal Fire investigators said that at least 17 major wildfires over the summer of 2018 were caused by PG&E power line malfunctions.
Numerous lawsuits are plaguing the California, power utility company. Among them, “former Chico and Oroville police chief Kirk Trostle and his wife Patty Garrison, a retired school principal, sued PG&E, contending the utility company failed to take appropriate safety steps. The couple’s Paradise home was destroyed in the Camp Fire.”
As lawsuits continue to mount awaiting their due process, it could be quite a while before the state investigators conclude who started the Camp Fire and other contended wildfires in the Golden State.
On August 31, 2018, California’s state legislature passed a bill (29 to 4 in the Senate and 45 to 10 in the Assembly) to limit PG&E’s liability for wildfires that burned down a large part of the San Francisco Bay area in 2017.
State law mandates that the guilty party pay for damages caused by their failure to follow correct procedures. Based on the number of pending lawsuits against PG&, the power company is extremely negligent, disorganized, and/or incompetent:
“In California, utilities are responsible for fires traced to their equipment whether or not they are complying with regulations. PG&E faces about 200 lawsuits on behalf of 2,700 plaintiffs stemming from last year’s fires.”
On September 21, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown approved this piece of bailout law to protect the errant utility corporation from billions of dollars in damages.
Democrat State Senator Bill Dodd said the bill would benefit utility customers by preventing significant increases on their bills. “Without it, ratepayers will be left holding the bag and communities will needlessly suffer,” he said.
On December 9, 2018, the Mercury News reported that PG&E had filed a regulatory proposal authorizing a price hike of 2.8 percent per monthly bill.
Here’s how Governor Brown’s PG&E bailout really worked out for Californians:
“At present, the average monthly residential PG&E bill is roughly $165.10 for customers who receive both electricity and gas services from the company. That’s much higher than monthly bills in the recent past.”
Mark Toney is the executive director with consumer rights group The Utility Reform Network. Toney said that PG&E monthly bills “are just out of control” and added:
“Our biggest concern is that more and more people are falling behind on paying their monthly bills and as they fail to pay their bills, more people are having their power shut off.
Even though PG&E is almost certainly the culprit in starting more than a dozen life- and property-destroying fires, the state government is protecting them.
Consumers whose lives were impacted adversely by the wide-spread blazes will have to pay higher fees to the very corporate criminal responsible for the extensive damages.