It's clear the effects of California's devastating wildfires stretch far beyond displacement and physical damage. But now, we're learning the massive costs of what many call the "new normal" could drastically increase the bills of millions of utility customers, particularly of PG&E.
"If you continue to have hits in the $15 billion range, it's going to come from the taxpayers or the ratepayers, or it's going to come in the form of insurance premiums," Steven Weissman, a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, said.
"I'm not very happy about it," Ana, a San Jose resident said. "I understand why."
"I already pay enough to live in the Bay Area," Emily Schnittger, a PG&E customer, said. "Everybody has like a second side hustle outside of their main 9 to 5. I just think we should have been doing something about this a long time ago."
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Weissman said rates would skyrocket on average 50% in the first year, if current wildfire trends continue.
For example, PG&E estimates $30 billion in fire damages for 2017 and 2018 fires. Their revenue is $13 billion a year. Additional impacts are spelled out in a report the Newsom administration asked Weissman to do.
"This analysis is not a prediction just more of a conversation starter," Weissman said. "We have a confluence of various factors that we don't know how to stop yet."
The spike in rates would impact California's ambitious climate goals as well.
Higher energy rates would mean less electric cars on the roads, hinder major companies in Silicon Valley who need power for operations, and service reliability. There would be more forced outages during fire season.
When asked about a potential solution, Weissman responded, "Top down planning from the state level. A lot of coordination with local governments and it's going to take time. I think the time to get started on that project was yesterday, not now."
The governor's office is expected roll out a plan on Friday for dealing with increased wildfire risk and climate change.
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Report: PG&E rates could skyrocket if wildfires caused by utility continue
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