A federal district judge supervising Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s (PG&E) five-year probation for earlier criminal convictions has concluded that the utility’s faulty equipment is tied to almost all of the Northern California wildfires in the past two years, including the Camp Fire last year.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California in San Francisco last Thursday said in a tentative finding that the most "recurring cause" in the devastating fires is the "susceptibility of PG&E's distribution lines to trees or limbs falling onto them during high-wind events."
Alsup asked for parties in the criminal case tied to PG&E’s deadly 2010 natural gas transmission pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA, to comment on the findings by Wednesday, and to be prepared to discuss them in a hearing scheduled for Jan. 30.
He wrote that falling trees and limbs “have most often occurred in rural areas where distribution lines use 35- to 50-foot single poles and run through grass, brush, oak and pines...When the [uninsulated] conductors are pushed together, electrical sparks drop into vegetation below..." creating extreme danger for igniting a wildfire.
A PG&E spokesperson said the company is reviewing Alsup's finding.
"We are committed to complying with all rules and regulations that apply to our work, while working together with our state and community partners to develop comprehensive, long-term safety solutions," said PG&E spokesperson James Noonan.
In a federal regulatory filing on Tuesday, the company said it has lined up $5.5 billion in debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing from several major banks to fund operations during the bankruptcy proceeding. The financing has a maturity date of Dec. 31, 2020 and an extension to Dec. 31, 2021.
"PG&E expects the DIP facilities will provide it with sufficient liquidity to fund its ongoing operations, including its ability to provide safe service,” the filing indicated. “PG&E expects Chapter 11 cases to take, subject to satisfaction of certain terms and conditions, approximately two years."
Meanwhile, the state legislature, which last year passed wildfire relief via Senate Bill (SB) 901 for the state’s major investor-owned utilities, has turned its focus elsewhere as PG&E prepares to soon file for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
A spokesperson for Assemblymember Chris Holden, chair of the Utilities and Commerce Committee, confirmed that the lawmakers have put aside proposed legislation to expand the scope of SB 901, but Holden has not "abandoned" the idea entirely.
"It's just that the landscape has shifted from a legislative approach to one that's in the courts," said spokesperson Garo Manjikian.