PG&E's response to wildfires? Build more weather stations

PG&E says it will install hundreds of weather stations and surveillance cameras in wildfire-prone areas throughout the state as the company takes heat over recent blazes.

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subjected to intense public criticism and regulator scrutiny over its preparation and handling of wildfire situations over the last several years. Last year, PG&E was blamed for 17 wildfires that tore through California — fires that destroyed hundreds of structures and, in some cases, killed people. Under California law, utility companies like PG&E can be found liable for wildfire events if their equipment is proven to have contributed to the start of a fire. Earlier this year, PG&E spent nearly $2 million in an attempt to encourage state lawmakers to curb some of that liability. That effort ultimately went up in smoke, though PG&E was able to convince lawmakers to offset some of that liability onto its customers for previous fires. Those efforts happened several weeks before the catastrophic Camp Fire tore through Butte County, leveling the town of Paradise. The fire has been blamed for the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses. More than 80 people died as a result of the blaze. PG&E has not been found liable for that fire, though two ominous reports the utility company filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) note at least one of its transmission towers suffered from equipment failure near the start of the blaze. Attorneys have started filing lawsuits on behalf of wildfire victims and survivors predicated largely on that information. PG&E has also not been linked to any wildfires that started over the year in the Winters area, though one large grass fire — the Eighty-Eight Fire — remains under investigation. Though PG&E is taking some action now, it is unclear how this year’s large fires will ultimately impact the utility company. News of potential liability and talks of a worst-case bankruptcy filing sent PG&E’s stock price plummeting in November, only to rebound after CPUC President Michael Picker threw his and his regulatory board’s support behind PG&E. “It’s not good policy to have utilities unable to finance the services and infrastructure the state of California needs,” Picker said in an interview with Bloomberg News. It is also not good for Winters, a city that is not only served by PG&E but has solidified an intimate partnership with the utility company over the last several years, the latest example being the completion of a $82 million gas safety center that was expected to bring a revolving door of employees from across PG&E’s service area to Winters for training and other purposes. In an email with the Express last month on an unrelated story, City Manager John Donlevy wrote that the city officials were monitoring the situation with PG&E closely but did not want to make a comment about any future impacts. “We are, with the rest of the population on this topic, getting bits and pieces from the media,” Donlevy wrote. “PG&E is in a tough position, and it is not for us to bring a semi-informed judgment on anything. PG&E is an important partner of the city, and it would be irresponsible to make any type of evaluation on something we know practically nothing about.”  ]]>

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