California Utility Seeks Higher Rates for Wildfire Safety

Customer bills could rise more than $22 a month

 

In this Jan. 8, 2017 file photo, a Pacific Gas and Electric Company crews work to clear a downed tree over Highway 9 north of Boulder Creek, Calif. PG&E pushed back Friday, March 22, 2019, on a U.S. judge’s revised proposals to prevent the utility’s equipment from causing more wildfires, saying it could not “monitor every tree at every moment of every day” to ensure they don’t pose a threat to its electric lines in violation of California laws. (Kevin Johnson/The Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP, File)/The Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. is asking state regulators for another increase in rates and profits, saying it’s needed for wildfire safety and to attract investment as the utility goes through bankruptcy.

The Sacramento Bee reports Monday that the request and a previous one could result in average PG&E customer bills rising more than $22 a month for electricity and natural gas.

Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, the state’s other major utilities, also asked the Public Utilities Commission for greater profit margins, saying they need to offer investors a higher return for taking on financial insecurity related to wildfires.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials are trying to figure out how to deal with PG&E’s bankruptcy — and utilities in general — in the state marked by deadly wildfires.

A November fire that essentially wiped out the Northern California town of Paradise was the deadliest and most destructive in state history.

PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said Monday’s filing reflects the utility’s financial predicament as it invests in safety upgrades.

“This is neither the best nor the preferred solution,” she said, adding that PG&E wants to “reduce the ask” and is open to discussing alternatives with state officials that would reduce the size of the increase.

The request is likely to anger some lawmakers who are already upset with the utility’s role in deadly wildfires of 2017 and 2018, as well as consumer advocates.

“While California is working hard to reduce wildfire risk and create a sustainable energy future, PG&E is requesting massive increases in costs to ratepayers in order to generate profits for investors — all while wildfire victims’ claims sit in bankruptcy,” said a statement from Nathan Click, the governor’s spokesman.

“The governor strongly believes ratepayers shouldn’t be on the hook for unnecessary increases as the state’s process plays out,” Click said.

“It’s like PG&E is looking for bailouts under any rock they can find,” said Mark Toney of The Utility Reform Network. “That is just a stunning amount.”

Also Monday, PG&E Corp. announced it has added Fred Buckman, former CEO of Consumers Energy and PacifiCorp, to its boards of directors. The utility also announced it will hire Christopher Hart, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, as an independent safety adviser.

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