The deadliest fire in California history is still raging, and there still hundreds of people unaccounted for in this ongoing tragedy. In addition to earning that moniker, the Camp Fire is also “the most destructive in California history … 8,817 structures have been destroyed, including 7,600 homes.”
Like the fires in 2017, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) appears to be the focus of the finger pointing. There’s already talk of lawsuits directed at PG&E – should they be the ones found responsible for the Camp Fire. California State Senator Jerry Hill is in the camp of those who believe PG&E is to blame, telling Politico, “The main culprit here is the spark, and what cause the spark. … Here, PG&E reported a break in their line where the Camp Fire started. It looks like there’s a causal relationship there.”
Politico is further reporting that Sen. Hill is “having a number of conversations” about introducing legislation in the 2019-2020 session that would create a statewide publicly owned utility company – a la SMUD here in Sacramento – as an alternative to investor owned utility like PG&E.
Sen. Hill is a well-known antagonist of PG&E, so his stance is not surprising. And it also needs repeating the Cal Fire is still investigating the cause of the Camp Fire, so it could very well mean that PG&E is not responsible this time.
However, if PG&E is found responsible for the Camp Fire, things could get very expensive for the utility very quickly. That’s because SB 901 – last year’s grand compromise on wildfire liability – allows utilities like PG&E to pass on the cost of lawsuits to ratepayers for 2017’s wildfires and for wildfires sparked after Jan. 1, 2019, leaving PG&E shareholders on the hook for the Camp Fire it be determined PG&E was liable. Should that be the case, I would not be surprised if PG&E sponsored legislation in 2019 in an attempt to shift costs of the Camp Fire from shareholders and on to ratepayers.
Looking ahead – between potential lawsuits, the cost of lobbying, and dealing with unbridled rage of Northern Californians who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and their possessions – it is increasingly looking like PG&E will have hell to pay in the near future.