Pacific Gas & Electric has warned its investors that it anticipates being held liable for $2.5 billion in damages for wildfires that ravaged Northern California last October. And that number may end up skyrocketing.
After state officials determined that the utility’s downed power lines were the cause of 12 Northern California wildfires, which killed 18 people and destroyed thousands of structures, the San Francisco-based company is bracing for big financial payouts.
The $2.5 billion sits on the low-end of estimates as lawsuits against the company continue to climb. Nearly 200 lawsuits have been filed so far against PG&E for damages, and insured losses from the fires are estimated to reach $10 billion, with some industry analysts claiming the total could climb to as much as $15 billion.
The company has been embroiled in a legislative battle in California over who should pay for wildfires. PG&E has argued that the fires were caused by an unprecedented mix of weather events. PG&E CEO and president Geisha Williams is fighting the state policy known as “inverse condemnation,” which could make PG&E liable for damage linked to its equipment regardless of whether it is found negligent for the fires.
On eight of the fires caused by power lines, state officials concluded the utility violated state code by failing to clear brush surrounding the lines.
It should be noted that the devastating Tubbs Fire, the most deadly and destructive of the October wildfires which killed 22 people and destroyed more than 3,300 homes in Sonoma County, is not included in these payouts. Company officials are still awaiting the report as to the cause of that fire. If PG&E is held liable in that case, the payouts could be monumental.
If the company is deemed legally responsible by lawmakers for the damage of the Tubbs Fire, PG&E customers could see an increase in their electric bills.