Ratepayer Advocates Request Part in PG&E Bankruptcy

Wildfire victims, creditors and ratepayers have been lining up to participate in the Pacific Gas and Electric bankruptcy process.

On Wednesday, consumer watchdog The Utility Reform Network sent a letter to federal trustees formally requesting the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco appoint a committee of ratepayers to represent the interests of PG&E’s 16 million customers in Northern and Central California. The utility filed for Chapter 11 last month, citing the more than $30 billion in claims it faced for Northern California’s disastrous wildfires in 2017 and 2018. (See Bankruptcy Only Viable Option for PG&E, Lawyer says.)

“Ratepayers have at least as much at stake as any constituency in these Chapter 11 cases,” TURN Executive Director Mark Toney said in a news release. “PG&E’s electricity and gas customers generate nearly all of its revenues, and hence are its main source of income.

“With bondholders, banks and others who are represented by creditors’ committees likely to assert tens of billions of dollars in claims, the court will be making critical decisions about which claims to allow and whether shareholders or consumers will pay them,” Toney said. “Customers deserve a seat at the table.”

TURN’s request was addressed to officials in the Justice Department’s Trustee Program, which supervises the administration of bankruptcy cases. It was endorsed, TURN said, by the Public Advocates Office of the California Public Utilities Commission and by a number of public interest groups including the Sierra Club.

“Ratepayers form a unique creditor class with an interest in recovering funds owed to them,” the letter said. “For example, ratepayers are entitled to the California Climate Credit (approximately $450 million for 2019) which represents proceeds from PG&E’s sale of greenhouse gas allowances. Similarly, PG&E owes ratepayers $31.75 million from the calendar year 2019 Gas, Transmission and Storage proceeding as part of a settlement agreement, and $10 million from a settlement agreement regarding ex parte communication violations.

“PG&E also is authorized to collect in rates certain forecasted procurement costs recorded in its Energy Resource Recovery Account that could be subject to ratepayer refund.  Thus, in some instances, ratepayers will be competing creditors.”

long list of would-be creditors, including fire victims, is collectively claiming in bankruptcy court that PG&E owes them tens of billions of dollars.

They include Karen Roberds and Anita Freeman, who claim in a lawsuit that PG&E owes $16 billion to those who lost real and personal property in the November 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County. The cause of the Camp Fire has yet to be determined, but PG&E equipment is suspected. (See PG&E Troubles Mount After Camp Fire.)

Among the 62 other claims already filed with the Bankruptcy Court is a $10 billion claim from the owners of a restaurant in Glen Ellen. They filed a lawsuit for their losses and the losses of other businesses in Napa and Sonoma counties during the siege of wildfires in Northern California’s wine country in October 2017. State investigators have blamed PG&E for starting 18 of the 21 major fires there during that time.

Dozens of smaller claims, such as a $10 million claim from a veterans’ home in Napa County, have also been filed.