Fire-starting utility PG&E chastised by regulators, but gets safety certificate anyway

Apr 15, 2021 | In the News, PG&E

Source: MSN News  |  By Joseph Wilkinson

California regulators blasted notorious utility Pacific Gas & Electric at a Thursday meeting, but quietly certified the company’s 2021 wildlife safety plan.

PG&E’s equipment has started several deadly fires in north and central California since 2015, and it was bankrupted in 2019 by settlement payouts to victims’ families. When the company was pulled out of bankruptcy in July 2020, it came with new conditions under the California Public Utilities Commission.Thursday’s formal rebuke was the commission’s first of six potential steps that could eventually result in PG&E losing its utility license, the Associated Press reported. The CPUC said the company did not take enough steps in the past year to mitigate fire risk.Yet the regulators subtly certified PG&E as a “safe” utility, according to Sacramento ABC affiliate KXTV. The safety certificate was originally on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, but commissioners removed it Wednesday. Critics called the move giving PG&E “a license to burn.”“They simply don’t deserve this safety certification,” Mark Toney, leader of The Utility Reform Network told KXTV. “They are not a safe company.”

Instead the CPUC laid out four criteria for PG&E to improve, the Redding Record Searchlight reported. That included focusing its tree-trimming efforts in high-risk fire areas. Regulators said the company had previously trimmed easy, low-risk regions.

The CPUC’s Public Advocates Office recommended that the five CPUC commissioners reject PG&E’s fire prevention plan for 2021, according to the AP. A final decision has not yet been made.

PG&E lightly pushed back against its critics, saying it has worked hard to make its grid safer, the AP reported. But the company sits in a precarious legal position because of its post-bankruptcy deal.

Thursday’s meeting was the latest in a long line of PG&E criticism and legal wrangling. The company pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of manslaughter for causing the 2018 Camp Fire, which nearly wiped the towns of Paradise and Concow off the map.

PG&E declared bankruptcy to handle all the civil settlements it owed for the blaze, and multiple others in prior years, which were eventually set at $13.5 billion.

But that hasn’t stopped its equipment from starting fires. PG&E was sued earlier this month over damages from the 2019 Kincade Fire, and the 2020 Zogg Fire, which killed four people, started when a tree crashed through a PG&E power line.

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