New legislation to extend Senate Bill (SB) 901, California’s wildfire utility relief bill, is scheduled to be introduced early in January to include other wildfires, including the devastating Camp Fire in Northern California, according to an aide to Assemblyman Chris Holden, who helped sponsor the original bill.
Holden, who chairs the Utilities and Commerce Committee, was planning to introduce legislation to amend the bill when the newly elected legislature meets next week for a one-day organizing session. However, he now plans to make the move when the regular legislative session convenes, said his chief consultant on the committee Kellie Smith.
"The earliest the first hearing of the bill could be is in February," Smith said. "It would have to go through policy and fiscal committees, as well as the floor of each house. The process typically takes several months.”
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), whose utility lines in Northern California may be to blame for some of the Camp Fire outbreaks, has seen its stock price plunge, which caught Holden's attention because it could adversely affect ratepayers. The Camp Fire, considered the worst in state history, has killed scores of people and destroyed more than 13,000 structures.
After more than two weeks of raging infernos, the Camp Fire and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California were both 100% contained as of Monday.
As the survivors of the two wildfires reached out for state assistance, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) scheduled back-to-back wildfire technology and innovation summits on March 21-22 in Sacramento. CPUC President Michael Picker said the state cannot accept the wildfires as the new normal.
"We can develop game-changing solutions and get ahead of this problem," said Picker, noting that the summits are to start an ongoing dialogue among technology, academic researchers, utilities and government.
The discussions would be aimed at better understanding the challenges of the fires and map a longer road to solutions that can help better manage the inherent risks.
The Camp Fire covered 153,336 acres, destroying 13,972 residences and 528 commercial structures, along with 4,293 other buildings. At least 85 deaths have been attributed to the blaze, along with three injured firefighters. In Southern California, the Woolsey Fire blackened 96,949 acres, with three deaths and three firefighters injured.
Both fires began Nov. 8, and their individual causes are still under investigation. In each case, electric utility equipment problems occurred near the suspected areas where both fires may have started.
There are nearly four million people living in the state's fire-risk areas defined on the CPUC's fire hazard map, making up 44% of the state's land mass. It is estimated that 4.2 million wooden utility poles and 200,000 miles of overhead electric distribution lines and 1.4 million housing units are located within the high fire threat areas.
Picker noted that the CPUC is one of the state agencies tasked with ensuring that investor-owned utilities operate a safe and reliable grid. The agency is addressing the wildfire problem in multiple forums, he said.