PG&E faces California money penalty for huge and destructive wildfire

Fire destroyed more than 1,000 buildings and scorched vast swath of Northern California

OAKLAND — PG&E faces a state penalty and fines in connection with a massive and destructive wildfire caused by the utility in Northern California, regulators said Monday.

The state Public Utilities Commission is considering fining PG&E $45 million for its role in causing the Dixie Fire, which scorched portions of five California counties in 2021.

On July 13, 2021, a rotting tree fell onto a PG&E transmission line near State Route 70 and Cresta Dam in the Feather River Canyon, not far from the deadly 2018 Camp Fire.

The Dixie Fire raged through Plumas, Butte, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama counties before being extinguished on October 25, 2021. It destroyed over 1,300 buildings and killed one firefighter in the battle to contain and control the blaze. PG&E previously estimated that the fire would cost $1.15 billion, including $637 million for firefighting efforts.

The PUC proposed three components to the penalty:

  • A penalty of $40 million for capital expenditures to convert records to electronic format.
  • A $2.5 million payment to indigenous tribes in California affected by the fire.
  • A $2.5 million fine was paid into the general treasury of the state.

“We accept CAL FIRE’s determination that the fire was caused by a tree falling into our powerline.” However, PG&E believes it operated prudently,” a PG&E spokesperson said in an email to this news organization. “There is no evidence that PG&E consciously and willfully disregarded a known risk with regard to the ignition of the Dixie Fire.”

The proposed settlement will be considered by the five-member state PUC at a voting meeting on Nov. 16.

According to PUC staff, PG&E customers will not face higher monthly bills as a result of the penalty.

According to the regulators, “PG&E would pay a $45 million shareholder-funded penalty” under the proposal issued on Monday by the PUC’s enforcement staff.

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