Report: CPUC launches PG&E, SCE probes after 3 deadly fires
- The California Public Utilities Commissions (CPUC) said Monday it has launched investigations into the regulatory compliance of electric facilities owned by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE) related to three deadly fires.
- The investor-owned utilities (IOUs) had separately filed electric safety incident reports on Thursday, alerting regulators of problems with a PG&E transmission line around the source of Butte County's Camp Fire and with SCE transmission lines near ground zero of Ventura County's Hill Fire and Los Angeles County's Woolsey Fire. The CPUC and CalFire have not made official determinations on the causes of the fires.
- PG&E has incurred more than $2 billion in costs, net of insurance recoveries, related to wildfires so far this year, as its equipment was determined to be the cause of several deadly fires. SCE told the Securities and Exchange Commission it expects to incur losses based on the potential that its equipment started a deadly fire in 2017, and has been sued over its role in the blaze.
More costly litigation threats loom over both utilities as Bloomberg reports attorneys are preparing to file lawsuits for property loss.
If SCE or PG&E equipment started the respective fires in question, utilities would be on the hook for the resulting damage whether or not they were negligent, according to the state's interpretation of "inverse condemnation" laws.
The state legislature almost passed changes to the "inverse condemnation" laws as part of Senate Bill 901, a broader package to reform wildfire mitigation. The bill was signed into law containing other provisions addressing IOU exposure to wildfire damage liability, but utilities continue to say it's not enough.
"While the state legislature has taken an important initial step to mitigate wildfire risks through the passage of SB 901, much more work is needed to address the critical issues of fire prevention, suppression efforts and liability allocation," SCE wrote in a statement on Friday.
PG&E warned of the potential for bankruptcy earlier this summer based on the increasing costs of wildfire liability from 2017, which would be supplemented by any liability from the destructive Camp Fire. So far, the blaze has killed 43 people and burned more than 7,000 buildings.
PG&E's power lines remain a possible source of ignition for Camp Fire. A woman who lived close to the start of the blaze reported receiving an email from PG&E the day before the fire broke out about equipment repair needs on or near her property, according to The Mercury Times.
The CPUC probes will "assess the compliance of electric facilities with applicable rules and regulations in fire impacted areas," CPUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper told the Mercury News on Monday. "The CPUC staff investigations may include an inspection of the fire sites once Cal Fire allows access, as well as maintenance of facilities, vegetation management, and emergency preparedness and response."
One attorney representing victims of Camp Fire told Bloomberg he will file a complaint in the next two days. Other firms representing clients in the Woolsey Fire zone told Bloomberg that it was too early to determine SCE's part in the fires, but that "the signs point at" the IOU.
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