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Bill would allow utility companies to pass on 2017 wildfire costs to customers

Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-30 20:52:18-04

California utility companies could be facing hefty lawsuits for devastating fires in 2017 and now a new bill could allow power companies like PG&E and Southern California Edison to charge customers to help pay off the settlements resulting from potential wildfire lawsuits. 
 
The bill follows CAL FIRE’s investigation into some of the state’s deadliest wildfires. CAL FIRE found that PG&E’s power lines were at fault for 12 of last October’s wildfires in Northern California. 
 
Some customers don’t think it’s fair to have to pay for the utility’s mistakes. 

"If it’s truly negligence then I would say yeah, you guys are up for it, " said Diane Otto, Grover Beach resident.

AB 33 would allow utility companies to use state-issued bonds for damage, injury and firefighting costs and then consumers would have to pay off that fee. 
 
Critics say the legislation is a bailout.
 
"Why would we have to pay for something that they made a mistake about? That doesn’t seem right in any sort of way," said Chris Vasquez, San Luis Obispo resident. 

The law would only apply to wildfires in 2017 when dozens of people were killed and thousands of buildings destroyed.
 
Some people say they wouldn’t mind an extra fee if it was reasonable. 

PG&E has said that it has about $2.5 billion reserved for potential lawsuits, but the legislation adds that it would be too much for the utility company to pay alone.

The bill reads, "The magnitude of potential damage claims undermines Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s ability to invest in the infrastructure necessary to meet the state’s aggressive wildfire mitigation and clean energy plans."
 
Other customers think it is a shared responsibility. 
 
"I definitely think PG&E is responsible for all of the brush clearance underneath their lines and their equipment but asking them to pay for all of the fire damage is something I think we all will have to share in that responsibility," said Thomas Hamilton, Los Osos resident. 

In an email statement, PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn said, "This issue is critical to our customers, the state and PG&E. PG&E appreciates the California Legislature’s willingness to address the issues related to wildfire."

KSBY reached out to Southern California Edison and CAL FIRE and both said they did not have a stance on the bill at this time. 

The bill will go before the Assembly and Senate later this week.