Calif. Utility: Judge’s Proposals for Fire Risk Too Expensive

January 24, 2019 Updated: January 24, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO—Proposals by a U.S. judge to prevent Pacific Gas & Electric Co. equipment from causing any more wildfires would create safety risks, cost too much money, and interfere with the work of federal and state regulators, the utility said Wednesday.

PG&E said in a court filing that it’s committed to system upgrades and wildfire mitigation, but it contends that a criminal case being handled by U.S. District Judge William Alsup is not the right forum to address such measures.

Earlier this month, Alsup proposed ordering PG&E to remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines and to cut off power during certain wind conditions.

He is also considering whether to order the utility to reinspect its entire electric grid.

PG&E is facing hundreds of lawsuits from wildfire victims over catastrophic California wildfires in the past two years that killed scores of people and destroyed thousands of homes.

The utility announced on Jan. 14 that it will file for bankruptcy protection in the face of at least $30 billion in potential liability claims from the suits.

PG&E said in its court filing on Jan. 23 that complying with all of Alsup’s proposals could cost as much as $150 billion and require massive rate hikes.

The proposals would require the utility to remove an estimated 100 million trees, causing significant environmental consequences, it said.

In addition, the measures would interfere with the “role of state and federal regulators without fully accounting for the risks that some of those actions may create” or assessing whether those costs are necessary, PG&E said.

The court filing added that shutting down power affects first responders, critical medical care, and essential services such as water delivery.

U.S. prosecutors urged Alsup on Wednesday to work with a court-appointed monitor to determine ways PG&E could prevent its equipment from starting wildfires.

In its court filing, the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco said Alsup should refrain from immediately imposing new requirements on the utility.

Alsup is overseeing a jury verdict against PG&E involving the deadly explosion of a company gas pipeline in 2010.

The judge is eyeing the wildfire requirements as part of PG&E’s probation in the criminal case.
Alsup has noted that California fire investigators have determined that PG&E caused 18 wildfires in 2017—12 of which could result in criminal prosecution.

By Sudhin Thanawala. From The Associated Press.

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