Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced a $13.5 billion settlement late Friday with Northern California victims who suffered enormous losses in the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, some of the most devastating in U.S. history.
The settlement resolves all claims made against the beleaguered company, which has been under a virtual fire of its own ever since the blazes ripped across the California landscape.
In announcing the settlement, the company said the agreement is subject to a number of conditions that have to be met in accordance with PG&E’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan. A federal bankruptcy court will have the final say.
“From the beginning of the Chapter 11 process, getting wildfire victims fairly compensated, especially the individuals, has been our primary goal. We want to help our customers, our neighbors and our friends in those impacted areas recover and rebuild after these tragic wildfires,” said CEO and President of PG&E Corporation Bill Johnson.
“There have been many calls for PG&E to change in recent years. PG&E’s leadership team has heard those calls for change and we realize we need to do even more to be a different company now and in the future. We will continue to make the needed changes to re-earn the trust and respect of our customers, our stakeholders and the public. We recognize we need to deliver safe and reliable energy service every single day – and we’re determined to do just that.”
Earlier this week, a new report by state regulators detailed how PG&E failed to properly inspect and maintain the equipment that ignited the November 2018 Camp Fire, which devastated the Northern California town of Paradise, killing 85 people and destroying 18,804 structures.
A California Public Utilities Commission investigation of the events that led to the catastrophic blaze concluded that the company violated 12 state safety rules, which regulators deemed not a rare instance but instead “indicative of an overall pattern of inadequate inspection and maintenance of PG&E’s transmission facilities.’’
Among the violations cited in the 696-page report: The utility neglected to conduct detailed climbing inspections that could have detected the equipment malfunction that sparked the inferno and failed to correctly prioritize a safety hazard.
An aging tower where a worn hook broke and helped ignite the fire had not been subjected to a climbing inspection since at least 2001, the report said.
A previous investigation by Cal Fire, the state’s fire protection agency, had determined in May that PG&E power lines actually started two blazes near Paradise, with the first one overtaking the other.
PG&E, which in January filed for bankruptcy protection as it faced a slew of lawsuits and more than $20 billion in liability from the Camp Fire and other destructive blazes in 2017 and 2018, did not contest the CPUC findings, saying they confirm Cal Fire’s conclusions.
“Without question, the loss of life, homes and businesses is heartbreaking. The tragedy in Butte County on Nov. 8, 2018, will never be forgotten,’’ the company said in a statement. “We remain deeply sorry about the role our equipment had in this tragedy, and we apologize to all those impacted by the devastating Camp Fire.’’
The statement also points out the steps PG&E has taken to mitigate wildfire risks, including enhanced inspections in fire-prone areas through the use of drones and climbing crews, along with accelerated repairs of damaged equipment.
In addition, PG&E is among the utilities looking into technology-based solutions to the pressing problem of wildfires, which have become increasingly destructive for a number of reasons that include climate change, a major contributor to vegetation drying and becoming more combustible.