PG&E to pay $55 million to settle two wildfire cases

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Monday struck a $55 million settlement with six California county prosecutors, which puts the beleaguered utility under five years of independent oversight and ends criminal probes into two wildfires. 

As a result of these agreements, no criminal charges will be filed in the Dixie Fire and the criminal complaint regarding the 2019 Kincade Fire will be dismissed.

The Dixie Fire started when a tree fell onto power lines near the Feather River Canyon. The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County ignited when an untethered end of a jumper cable broke during a windstorm in the Geysers geothermal area and the energized line sent sparks to the vegetation below. 

"We are committed to doing our part, and we look forward to a long partnership with these communities to make it right and make it safe," PG&E Patti Poppe said in a statement. "We respect the leadership of the local DAs, welcome the new level of transparency and accountability afforded by these agreements, and look forward to working together for the benefit of the communities we collectively serve."

The District Attorney offices of Plumas, Lassen, Tehama, Shasta and Butte Counties reached a $30 million settlement with PG&E for the 2021 Dixie Fire.

That means PG&E has to pay anyone who lost their homes in that fire by this summer, to make extensive safety improvements and to be subject to oversight by the District Attorneys though an independent safety monitor. This role will be filled by Filsinger Energy Partners, which also serves as the Independent Safety Monitor for the California Public Utilities Commission. 

The money will also go toward paying local charities and organizations involved in mitigating the effects of the fire. Some examples include the Fire Safe Councils, volunteer fire departments, local schools and community groups such including Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce and organizations serving veterans and the homeless.

The district attorneys said the settlement was part of a larger deal involving the Sonoma County District Attorney with regard to the Kincade Fire. PG&E has to pay $20 million to Sonoma County, where prosecutors had filed 33 criminal charges last year accusing PG&E of inadvertently injuring six firefighters and endangering public health with smoke and ash from that fire. 

In November 2021, PG&E reached a $125 million settlement agreement with California regulators: PG&E shareholders would pay a $40 million fine to the state general fund and spend another $85 million in the removal of abandoned transmission equipment throughout the utility’s territory. 

Shasta County’s criminal case against PG&E for their actions causing the Zogg Fire remains pending. 

In the Zogg case, PG&E’s actions caused the deaths of four people. 

The district attorneys said that a civil settlement would not be sufficient to hold PG&E accountable for its actions in the wake of these deaths. The utility was charged with involuntary manslaughter after sparking this deadly blaze. 

Pacific Gas & Electric has been blamed for more than 30 wildfires since 2017 that wiped out more than 23,000 homes and businesses and killed more than 100 people. It previously reached settlements with wildfire victims of more than $25.5 billion.

PG&E, a 117-year-old company, generates about $20 billion in revenue annually while serving a 70,000-square-mile service area in the northern and central part of California that includes farmland, forests, big cities and the world’s technology hub in Silicon Valley.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.