State Committee May Decide PG&E, Edison Wildfire Costs

By Mark Chediak | July 5, 2018

Utility giants PG&E Corp. and Edison International are facing billions of dollars in potential liabilities from devastating wildfires that broke out across California last year. For a look at how much they could end up on the hook for in the future, watch this state committee that was just formed.

California Governor Jerry Brown said late Monday that he and state lawmakers are forming a conference committee that will, among other things, update utility regulations to prevent wildfires and ensure that “those who cause wildfires are held accountable for damages associated with them.”

Brown didn’t say whether utilities could end up taking more – or less – responsibility for blazes as a result, but here’s one potentially bullish signal for PG&E and Edison: He cites climate change, not utility equipment, as the cause of “increasingly extreme weather and natural disasters” like wildfires. That’s an argument PG&E chief Geisha Williams has made as she fights to do away with a state law that holds utilities responsible for wildfire damages if their equipment ignites blazes – regardless of whether they’re negligent.

The conference committee announced Monday sets the stage for a debate over that policy, known as “inverse condemnation.” To be sure: Any legislation this committee considers will address the costs of future wildfires only. It won’t affect the liabilities PG&E and Edison are facing for last year’s wildfires, according to Brown’s statement.

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