California’s new $21 billion wildfire fund is awaiting decisions from three major investor-owned power utilities to provide half of the money needed to offer relief to victims of future fires.

State officials said it would be months before the fund is operable and years to determine if the law establishing it, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week, is effective.

Ratepayers for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E) will pay the first $10.5 billion into the statewide fund through a 15-year extension of a Department of Water Resources surcharge dating back to the state's recovery from the 2000-2001 western energy market meltdown.

The other half of the funding depends on each utility agreeing to pay its proportional share. In the case of bankruptcy-bound PG&E, it would have to get approval for the funding from the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing its case that was filed last January.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1054 specifies that PG&E pay 64.2% of the $10.5 billion total, SCE pay 31.5%, and SDG&E pay 4.3%. During a signing ceremony last Friday, Newsom said he is "very hopeful" that the utilities' shareholders would back their shares. The utilities have until July 26 to make their decisions.

The new law also imposes a safety certification process for the utilities and establishes a new safety unit within the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to oversee the process. Before they can tap into any of the Wildfire Fund, the utilities have to achieve the safety certification, which is also tied to utility executives' pay increases.

Eventually, the CPUC's new safety division is scheduled to become an independent unit within the Natural Resources Agency.