PG&E, utility tied to California wildfires, to file for bankruptcy

PG&E chief executive leaving as utility readies for possible bankruptcy

PG&E Corp, owner of the biggest United States power utility by customers, said on Monday it is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as soon as this month amid pressure from potentially crushing liabilities linked to California's catastrophic wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

"Everyone at PG&E knows that our single most important responsibility is safety, and we recognize that we must work even harder every day to demonstrate that the safety of our customers, our communities, our employees and our contractors comes first".

PG&E said in a company filing Monday that it has only about $1.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents on hand.

"We can't view this just as one off", said Austin Brown, executive director of the UC Davis Policy institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy.

Among the many considerations that pushed the company closer to bankruptcy were the need to resolve its potential liabilities, extensive rebuilding efforts and "the significant increase in wildfire risk resulting from climate change", PG&E said.

State fire investigators said they have determined that PG&E's power lines sparked 18 wildfires in October 2017 that burned almost 200,000 acres, destroyed 3,256 structures and killed 22 people.

PG&E Corp said Monday it will file for bankruptcy protection as it deals with billions in possible liability costs over huge state wildfires, the Wall Street Journal reports. Electric and natural gas customers will not notice any change in service, the utility said.

Again, the source of the fire was traced back to PG&E's transmission tower. Additionally, the utility's CEO Geisha Williams resigned. The utility has faced intense criticism and regular public protests at its San Francisco headquarters over the role its equipment has played in a series of wildfires that have devastated California over the past two years.

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Action News Now reporter Christina Vitale spoke with a lawyer to break down what bankruptcy means for the company. "We don't want to see the victims victimized again".

"You avoid a situation where some jury in California thinks PG&E is responsible for this fire, so we should hit them up for all these damages and let them sort out how they pay for it", Wynne said.

State officials are investigating whether the utility's equipment sparked the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California history, a November blaze that killed at least 86 people and burned down 15,000 homes. "In the end, California regulators and politicians will have to balance PG&E's financial health with customer costs", wrote Travis Miller, an energy and utilities strategist for Morningstar.

"California's existing liabilities laws weren't made for the new normal that we face going forward with these climate driven wildfires", Steve Malnight, a senior vice president at PG&E, told NPR member station KQED in August.

Last week, a federal judge proposed requiring PG&E to re-inspect its entire electric grid and "remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines".

The move, which PG&E has floated for months, will likely mean higher rates for consumers and a longer wait for fire victims suing the utility.

"There's going to be electricity that's not going to go away", Sorrells said. The company today filed a Form 8-K with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and said additional information is available on the PG&E website.

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