Published: Thu, January 31, 2019
Business | By Eloise Houston

Wildfire-scorched PG&E, California's biggest utility, files for bankruptcy

Wildfire-scorched PG&E, California's biggest utility, files for bankruptcy

Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation and its operational subsidiary PG&E Company, the company accused of starting several of California's record-breaking wildfires in 2017 and 2018, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

PG&E faced additional pressure not to move forward with the bankruptcy after investigators said a private electrical system, not utility equipment, caused the 2017 wine country blaze that destroyed more than 5,600 buildings in Sonoma and Napa counties.

Total insured losses from California's major wildfires a year ago now stand at $12.4 billion, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said in a Monday press conference.

Throughout this process, we are fully committed to enhancing our wildfire safety efforts, as well as helping restoration and rebuilding efforts across the communities impacted by the devastating Northern California wildfires.
In the filings, PG&E also asked for authority to continue existing customer programs, including low income support, energy efficiency and other programs supporting customer adoption of clean energy.

"I just know in my heart of hearts that we need to have a change in management, which we've had some, and we need to have a change in the boardroom", Dodd said.

Alsup said he would wait to see a wildfire mitigation plan PG&E was scheduled to submit to the CPUC on February 6 before deciding what, if any, additional requirements to order.

Amanda Riddle, an attorney representing victims of a deadly 2015 wildfire, said that even before the bankruptcy filing, PG&E had stopped making settlement payments to her clients. "And this will take years to sort out".

Alsup only briefly mentioned the bankruptcy case during Wednesday's hearing.

Jeffrey Hammond said he is pessimistic that he will collect any money from the company now that it has filed for bankruptcy. I'm standing here outside the company's sprawling staging center near Paradise where a small army of PG&E trucks is heading out to continue to try to restore services to Paradise and surrounding towns, towns that now are mostly eerily empty that remain filled with debris, ash, burned out cars and fallen trees, towns where people may want a measure of justice and compensation more than new power lines to nowhere.

The utility also filed for bankruptcy in April 2001 near the height of an electricity debacle marked by rolling blackouts and the manipulation of the energy market.

California already has a number of large, publicly owned utilities including the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. It outmaneuvered Berkshire Hathaway acquiring a small parcel of unsecured debt in Oncor Electric Delivery Co., opening a window for Sempra Energy to swoop in and strike a deal to acquire the Texas utility. To achieve that, utilities must switch to buying power from renewable sources. But elected officials this month showed little appetite for new rate hikes or other maneuvers to prevent a bankruptcy filing. But because of the utility's bankruptcy, some experts have questioned its ability to pay what it agreed to, or to make the investments in grid upgrades and batteries necessary to bring more renewable energy online.

California has set an aggressive goal to use 100 percent carbon-free electricity by the year 2045.

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