- Pacific Gas & Electric told a federal court on Wednesday that deferred maintenance on its electric grid was not a cause of the 2018 Camp Fire.
- The utility came under fire after a July 10 report from the Wall Street Journal found that it had repeatedly delayed work on its system and knew for years there was a risk its transmission system could spark wildfires. Judge William Alsup, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, had ordered the utility to respond to this reporting.
- PG&E has tens of thousands of transmission towers and is currently in the process of a system-wide inspection. Last month, the utility said its Wildfire Safety Inspection Program had completed aerial inspections of more than 90% of those structures in high fire-risk areas.
PG&E told Alsup that the Journal reporting misconstrued the type of work that was deferred, explaining that it was not a situation of worn or broken parts, but of maintaining clearance distance between transmission line conductors, and from those conductors to the ground, that was put off.
The utility pushed back on the notion that such a deferral was connected in any way to the devastating Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed almost 19,000 homes.
"PG&E strongly disagrees with the WSJ article's suggestion that PG&E knew of the specific maintenance conditions that caused the Camp Fire and nonetheless deferred work that would have addressed those conditions," the utility told Alsup.
The utility also told the judge it "denies the generalized assertion that it repeatedly failed to perform the necessary upgrades to prevent failures on its transmission lines."
PG&E filed for bankruptcy this year, facing billions in wildfire liabilities. The utility is inspecting its system in high fire-threat areas and lawmakers recently authorized a $21 billion wildfire assistance fund, which will support PG&E and other utilities in the state and be funded by customers and shareholders.
Last week, PG&E formally announced it would participate in the fund, and said it expects that its initial contribution would be approximately $4.8 billion. The utility said it expects its annual contributions would be approximately $193 million.
Its first contribution to the fund would be payable once it exits Chapter 11 reorganization.
Two groups of creditors have developed their own plans for the utility to exit bankruptcy, but PG&E is currently in a period of exclusivity when only the utility can submit a reorganization plan. PG&E has until Sept. 29 to submit a plan, but some creditors are worried that would not leave sufficient time to access the new wildfire assistance fund.
A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge has set a hearing for Aug. 13 on a bondholder motion to end the period of exclusivity.