April 18th, 2019

Speakers

Business Representative, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245

Policy and Research Specialist, World Institute on Disability

Former Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission

Former Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission

Energy Reporter, San Francisco Chronicle

Executive Director, The Utility Reform Network

Senior Manager, Western States Energy, Union of Concerned Scientists

Description 

In the past few years, massive wildfires have devastated California, destroying thousands of homes and killing more than a hundred people. Experts say droughts and other conditions amplified by climate change are one factor. But there is more to the story.

"No matter what happens we have to hold PG&E, and whatever successor there is, accountable for negligent acts,” says Mark Toney of the Utility Reform Network.

“PG&E was not put into bankruptcy by climate change,” he continues. “PG&E was put into bankruptcy through their own criminal negligence. And we’ve got to hold them accountable and come up with a way of stopping wildfires from happening in the first place. 

 PG&E has admitted that faulty power lines, combined with drought conditions and dying trees worsened by climate change, lit the spark for California’s most deadly wildfire ever. But as far back as the 1990s, PG&E was ignoring the fire danger posed by aging equipment and overgrown trees. Not even hefty fines from the California Public Utilities Commission could get them to clean up their act.

In 2000, “We fined them over hundred million dollars,” says Loretta Lynch, who was a commissioner with the CPUC at the time. “That was chump change to them.  They continued to pocket necessary maintenance monies and profit from it while the system deteriorated.”

In 2010, the San Bruno pipeline explosion killed eight people and injured dozens more; PG&E was later convicted of six felony counts. And last year’s Camp Fire, the deadliest, most destructive in California history, killed 85 people and decimated the town of Paradise. The company now faces a slew of lawsuits from fire victims.

“Essentially what our lawsuit is demanding or asking for from PG&E is that the fire victims’ lives are made whole again,” says Patty Garrison, whose home was destroyed in the fire. “It’s just infuriating that that kind of negligence has decimated a town and is continuing to kill people.” 

This mounting series of transgressions has saddled California’s biggest utility into $30 billion in liabilities and propelled it into bankruptcy. Some have called for a government takeover, or a breakup of the power behemoth into smaller, community-run energy providers. What’s next for PG&E – and for California’s energy future?

RELATED LINKS:

PG&E in Crisis (San Francisco Chronicle)
How PG&E Ignored Fire Risks in Favor of Profits (NYT)
Another Villain in the PG&E Tale – California PUC (San Francisco Chronicle)
TURN: The Utility Reform Network
Union of Concerned Scientists