Photo by Larry Gevert, Dreamstime.com
Larry Gevert

PG&E Pleads Guilty on Involuntary Manslaughter Charges in 2018 Camp Fire

March 23, 2020
The utility entered the guilty plea for 84 charges of involuntary manslaughter and one count of illegally starting a fire, according to multiple reports. PG&E will pay a fine of about $4 million.

PG&E Corp., parent of investor-owned utility Pacific Gas & Electric, pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from its involvement in sparking the 2018 Camp Fire, which were the most costly and deadly in California’s history.

The utility entered the guilty plea for 84 charges of involuntary manslaughter and one count of illegally starting a fire, according to multiple reports. PG&E will pay a fine of about $4 million.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that PG&E transmission and distribution equipment ignited wildfires in Butte County during extremely dry and windy conditions.

The plea became public in a Securities and Exchange Committee filing Monday morning. PG&E entered the plea with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office last week. That county’s superior court will review the plea and it will go on to the court overseeing PG&E’s bankruptcy case.

PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in response to being found liable for starting the wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, the utility instituted planned blackouts of certain parts of its service territory during wildfire-prone weather to avoid starting more wildfires. Those blackouts affected 2 million of PG&E’s 16 million customers.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has feuded publicly with PG&E over the wildfires and other issues, dropped his opposition to the utility’s $23 billion bankruptcy plan, under which it would emerge from bankruptcy in summer 2020.

The plan is for PG&E to recover from its bankruptcy in June and take advantage of the $21 billion in funding that the state’s wildfire insurance fund makes available. The fund was established to help PG&E and other power companies from their financial liabilities stemming from the wildfires.

Newsom’s opposition to the plan was based on how much the plan relied on debt refinancing. The plan also leaned on the state wildfire insurance fund, which might also be needed by the other big three utilities, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Newsom also said relying on debt might leave PG&E unable to upgrade and repair its power grid into one that can safely operate during dry and windy conditions and not cause future wildfires.

The governor also called on PG&E to replace its entire board of directors. The utility has agreed to shake up some of its board, but not all of it.

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