PG&E customers may end up footing Camp Fire liability claims

David Louie Image
Friday, November 16, 2018
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PG&E may turn to its customers to help cover its potential liability costs if they are found to have been at fault. The Cause of the Camp Fire has not yet been determined.

PARADISE, Calif. (KGO) -- The cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation and may take months to determine. Despite that, PG&E may turn to its customers to help cover its potential liability costs. It could seek a rate increase, for example.

However, ABC7 News has learned it won't get help from a new law that provides relief from last year's claims.

RELATED: California bill passes PG&E fire liability on to customers

A bill signed into law by Governor Brown may have been designed to help PG&E to pay for catastrophic expenses, including liability claims, from wildfires. But it doesn't cover fires in 2018. SB 901, authored by Napa area State Senator Bill Dodd, allows PG&E and other utility companies to pass along those costs to ratepayers by having the state finance that debt with long-term bonds.

It's estimated $1 billion in bonds would cost the typical residential customer $5.00 per year. The new law covers last year's fires and those in 2019 and beyond, but it wouldn't cover the Camp Fire. Cal Fire has not established responsibility for the Camp Fire.

"PG&E is looking for ratepayers to pick up the bill. That's why they're going through all these theatrics," said Mark Toney.

RELATED: PG&E says if found responsible for Camp Fire, cost would exceed insurance coverage

Toney is executive director of the utility watchdog group, TURN. PG&E has disclosed in federal documents its potential liabilities from claims far exceed its $1.4 billion in insurance coverage, raising questions who will cover the $10 billion in claims from last year and the potential for billions more if it's blamed for the Camp Fire.

"You still need somebody to maintain the utility infrastructure, including the transmission poles and wires and the distribution poles and wires," said former California Public Utilities Commissioner Catherine Sandoval.

For more stories related to the deadly Camp Fire burning in Butte County, visit this page.