A California legislative leader who helped sponsor Senate Bill (SB) 901, the state’s wildfire utility relief bill, said he wants to extend the measure to cover this year's fires, including the Camp Fire in Northern California, which has killed scores of people and destroyed more than 10,000 structures.
Assemblyman Chris Holden, who chairs the Utilities and Commerce Committee, is planning to introduce legislation to amend the bill on Dec. 3 when the newly elected legislature meets for a one-day organizing session, his chief consultant Kellie Smith told NGI.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), whose utility lines in Northern California may be to blame for some of the outbreaks, has seen its stock price plunge, and that affects ratepayers, “so that is a critical concern," Smith said. "We also realize that the most immediate concern is dealing with the tragedy up in Chico and Paradise, which is horrendous."
Holden wants to pursue extending SB 901 protection through utility securitization bonds, Smith said. The California Public Utilities Commission earlier this month opened a rulemaking to implement parts of the new utility wildfire protection law, as well as a new phase in an ongoing proceeding examining PG&E's corporate governance, structure and operations.
In December, when the state legislators are sworn in, a one-day organization session is planned, during which a bill could be introduced. However, any bill submitted has to wait 30 days to be heard under legislative rules, a veteran energy lobbyist told NGI.
"Article IV, Section 8 of the state constitution requires bills to be in print for 30 days before they can be heard," the lobbyist said. "They can waive that rule with a three-quarters vote, but they are unlikely to get that in both houses."
Height Securities LLC analysts Clayton Allen and Katie Bays said Holden's proposal likely will not be the only piece of wildfire-related legislation introduced. In any case, "moving liability legislation so quickly after the Camp Fire will prove extremely difficult."
Allen and Bays said most of the lawmakers who supported SB 901 remain in office following the midterm elections, "ensuring a base of support” for any legislation that may include securitization.
Energy companies are joining community efforts across the state to support victims impacted by the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California. Woolsey was expected to be fully contained by Thanksgiving Day.
Chevron Corp., which is headquartered in San Ramon, CA, donated $1 million to the American Red Cross in support of relief efforts for both wildfires.
“As a California company, we mourn the loss of life and destruction these fires have caused,” said Chevron CEO Michael Wirth. “Our thoughts are with all our neighbors who have been affected by the fires, and we honor all those working to contain them.”
In addition, Sempra Energy said its utilities Southern California Gas Co., San Diego Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison Co. have contributed a total of $650,000 to the victims of the Woolsey Fire.