Ratepayers could pay if PG&E is found liable for North Bay fires

Your future Pacific Gas & Electric bills could be heavily impacted by firestorms that happened a decade ago in Southern California.

Although PG&E has not been found responsible for the Wine Country fires, its stock value has decreased almost 22%.  That's probably because there's no hard rule as to whether PG&E will pay, even if it's wires or equipment started them. Who's responsible for the fires is far from an answered question and may never be determined. Part of it may be blamed on PG&E which everyone knows has a very deep pocket.

"The question of responsibility and who pays, whether it's the rate payers or the shareholders, is really left up to the CPUC," said consumer advocate Mark Toney of TURN, The Utility Reform Network.

This issue really dates back to firestorms in San Diego ten years ago. Even though Administrative Law Judges have said that San Diego Gas and Electric should pay $380 million for its negligence, that utility keeps coming back to the  Commission with new reasons, theories and strategies as to why ratepayers, not shareholders, should pay for the damage.  

PG&E has been in extensive talks with the California Public Utilities Commission which possibly could side with the utilities over customers. "PG&E felt it was important to share our perspective with the commission on this vital statewide safety topic. And to our ability to provide safe, reliable and clean service to our customers moving forward," said  PG&E Spokesman Donald Cutler. "The reason PG&E is so concerned about this case is because it's going ot set a precedent," said TURN's Toney.

That could mean, that even if PG&E is ultimately found negligent in the Wine County fires, the CPUC could shift billions of dollars of cost to ratepayers. "Wildfires and the method with which they are treated presently have real world and potentially long term implications on operations, risk management and the financial standing of every energy company in the state. So, we felt it was extremely important that the Commission hear the perspectives of all energy companies and all those we represent, our customers and the communities we serve here in California." said PG&E's Cutler. "When the utilities make profit, the shareholders benefit. When the utility screws up, the shareholders should pay. It's just fair," said Mr. Toney.