California bill passes PG&E fire liability on to customers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- A bill requiring customers to bail out PG&E for liabilities stemming from the 2017 Northern California fires is now on the governor's desk awaiting his signature.

SB901 passed both houses late Friday night. The controversial part of the bill addresses the wildfires, including those that burned in the North Bay.

RELATED: PG&E expects to pay $2.5 billion for costs related to North Bay fires

Cal Fire investigators determined that 11 of the fires were caused by PG&E. They have turned those cases over to the corresponding District Attorney's offices. PG&E could be on the hook for millions -- even billions -- in damages.

"Before we know what PG&E's liabilities are, we've already given a bailout and that's wrong," said State Sen. Jerry Hill. "What we voted on last night was to allow PG&E, if they are negligent and can't afford to pay that liability, we will pass that cost onto ratepayers, make them pay for it," Hill said, referring to PG&E customers.

After the vote, PG&E issued a statement, calling the bill "a common-sense solution that puts the needs of wildfire victims first. ... And protects electric customers."

RELATED: Santa Rosa wildfire victims take on utilities, state legislature

The bipartisan bill was designed to keep PG&E from going bankrupt over payouts to fire victims. It puts the California Public Utilities Commission in charge of deciding when customers kick in money by paying more for their utilities.

"They have to do a complete fiscal analysis, independent of PG&E, and nothing comes from ratepayers until PG&E pays the maximum amount they can pay and still remain in business," said State Sen. Bill Dodd.

SB901 also puts money toward streamlining forestry management to expedite the removal of dead trees.

The ratepayer liability in SB 901 only applies to the 2017 wildfires. From 2018 onward the law reverts to PG&E paying for liabilities out of shareholders money.
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.