PG&E says judge's proposals to mitigate wildfires too difficult, expensive

PG&E says a federal judge’s proposal to mitigate wildfire risks could lead to customers paying five times more for electric and gas services.
A Pacific Gas & Electric Company utility truck is parked in Winters on Jan. 14, 2019. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express
A Pacific Gas & Electric Company utility truck is parked in Winters on Jan. 14, 2019. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express

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Alsup wrote. “This will likely mean having to interrupt service during high-wind events…but that inconvenience, irritating as it will be, will pale by comparison to the death and destruction that otherwise might result from PG&E-inflicted wildfires.” On Wednesday, PG&E said it agreed with the court that things needed to change, but argued that the modifications proposed were unreasonable because it required a considerable about of manpower and money that the utility company says it does not have. In documents reviewed by the Express, PG&E estimated it would have to hire more than 650,000 full-time employees to clear more than 100 million trees and other vegetation along 70,000 square miles of its service territory.  That could cost between $75 billion and $150 billion — money PG&E says it can’t come up right now, unless it raises utility bills by more than 400 percent. PG&E also argued it could not simply remove vegetation from privately-owned lands without permission and that clearing certain protected habitats and other areas could violate environmental laws. It said the court’s proposal would remove authorities to state and federal regulators to handle those issues. In a separate court filing, government prosecutors agreed with PG&E on the regulation issue, saying the court’s record did not “support imposition of the proposed conditions.” Prosecutors said the monitor, which had been focused squarely on PG&E’s electrical distribution system, was also in a position to monitor PG&E’s electrical transmission system. The court had proposed requiring PG&E to power down its electrical lines if independent engineers could not certify that they were safe. PG&E argued that proposal could lead to widespread interruptions of electrical service for millions of Californians and customers as far away as Canada and Mexico. “De-energing high voltage transmission lines…could threaten the stability of the electrical grid both inside and outside PG&E’s service territory,” the utility wrote. It said requiring PG&E to interrupt its distribution lines could cause blackouts from San Francisco to the Oregon border, while shutting off transmission lines could impact customers in “large parts of the Western United States and Canada.” That, PG&E said, could impact critical services that depend on electricity, including law enforcement, hospital services and water delivery. The proposed changes to PG&E’s felony probation comes at a time when the utility company is attempting to ward off a number of lawsuits filed by wildfire survivors, including cases connected to last November’s Camp Fire that destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in Butte County and killed 80 people. PG&E has been implicated in connection with the start of that fire; its faces more than $30 billion in liability claims if investigators determine its equipment was at fault. Earlier this month, PG&E said it would file for bankruptcy protection by Jan. 29, citing “extensive litigation” and the company’s “significant potential liabilities resulting from these wildfires.”

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