Utility-Caused Catastrophes

For-profit, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) that are responsible for causing fires and other disasters should not be bailed out.  Victims of utility-caused disasters, such as the 2017 Napa and Sonoma fires and 2018 Camp Fire, should be fully compensated for their losses by the utilities, but not at the expense of ratepayers.  

Cases

PG&E Violations for 2017 Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino Fires and 2018 Camp Fire: CPUC proceeding R.19-06-015 is supposed to be an investigation into PG&E violations of the law that resulted in 19 wildfire in 2017 and 2018 that led to over 100 deaths, destruction of over 30,000 homes and business, and burning of 100,000’s of acres.  Wild Tree seeks to ensure that the fines assessed for violations of laws intended to prevent utility-caused disasters and otherwise protect public health are substantial enough to have a deterrent effect against prioritization of profits over safety as well as punitively addressing loss of life, homes, and communities; degradation of human and environmental health; and harm to our climate.    Unfortunately, there has been insufficient investigation, a rush to close the proceeding in just a few months, and a unconscionable proposed settlement.

  • Wild Tree Opposition to Proposed Settlement – The CPUC Safety Enforcement Division staff has, shockingly, proposed that the CPUC approve a settlement with PG&E for dozens of violations regarding the fires that were ignited by PG&E in 2017 and 2018 that includes NO FINE! Even worse, CPUC staff is trying to convince the public that this is the biggest “financial obligation” ever imposed in regards to a utility-caused wildfire.  This could not be farther from the truth.  Under the proposed settlement, PG&E would agree to not pursue ratepayer recovery for some costs it has already incurred.  But, the majority of this is for costs incurred as a result of PG&E starting the fires and would not, therefore, be recoverable anyhow.  Even though it is clear that PG&E destroyed evidence of the ignition source of the Tubbs Fire and there is strong evidence that PG&E equipment was responsible for starting the Tubbs Fire, CPUC staff has not alleged that PG&E violated the law in any way in regards to Tubbs.  Wild Tree has formally opposed the settlement working together with PG&E customer Thomas Del Monte. 
  • Wild Tree Motion for Evidentiary Hearings – Wild Tree moved that evidentiary hearings be held on the settlement agreement to address PG&E violations regarding the ignition of the Tubbs Fire, issue of how long PG&E knew about the risk that C-hooks pose to transmission lines, and other issues.  In December 2019, NBC Bay Area reported that it had uncovered a 1987 PG&E internal report that documented that C-hooks, like that which failed outside of Paradise causing the Camp Fire, failed at strengths much lower than rated in laboratory testing.  Wild Tree sought hearings to investigate the possibility that PG&E knew for 30 years that C-hooks posed a risk and did nothing and thereby violated safety laws for decades.  The motion was denied in the ALJ decision approving the settlement with modifications.
  • Presiding Officer’s Proposed Decision Approving Proposed Settlement Agreement with Modifications – A CPUC Administrative Law Judge approved the proposed settlement but added a $200 million fine, directed that ratepayers benefit from any tax deductions,  and increased the amount that PG&E would not seek to recovery in rates.  Although the modified settlement is still lacking in that it would prevent the CPUC from pursuing any further actions against PG&E in the future and does not address violation related to the Tubbs Fire,  Wild Tree is pleased that its arguments were heard regarding the need for an actual fine and that the “financial obligations” were in fact much lower than advertised.   PG&E has appealed, claiming they can’t possibly afford any $ fine and shouldn’t have to provide ratepayers the benefit of tax deductions.  Wild Tree is opposing the appeal.

Rate Increases Disguised as “Interim” Rate Recovery: PG&E would have the CPUC approve $900 million in rate increases on an “interim” basis with no review whatsoever, instead just basing the increase on PG&E’s word that it must increase rates beginning August 2020.  This would lead to an average rate increase for PG&E residential customer of 5% and 6.8% for CCA customers, just for this one case.   Most of the increase would be to recover the cost of vegetation management.  PG&E already convinced the CPUC to order “interim” rate increase in 2019 and has a motion pending in another case for additional “interim” rate increases – all of which is push PG&E and CCA rates higher and higher.  PG&E would later apply for approval for the rate increase and claims that there will be no harm to customers because customers will be reimbursed if the CPUC later finds the increase is not reasonable.   PG&E has also applied to create a permanent system where every time it claims to have spent $100 million on certain activities such as tree trimming it automatically gets an interim rate increase subject.

  • Wild Tree Protest to Application – Wild Tree strenuously objects to PG&E’s application to utilize ratepayers as their personal piggy bank.  It would be unconscionable and illegal for the Commission to approve PG&E’s application and increase PG&E electric rates that are already some of the highest in the country with no reasonableness review, no hearings, and no record upon which to base a decision.  PG&E would also have the Commission rewrite the basic tenants of ratemaking and permit standardized interim rate increases based solely upon the word of the utility that it has incurred costs that it deems eligible for interim rate increase.  Both schemes are illegal and unconscionable and should be denied at the outset.  This application is, frankly, a waste of the Commission’s time and should progress no further. 

2017 Fires Bailout: CPUC proceeding R.19-01-006 regarding ratepayer recovery for 2017 fires under SB 901.  Wild Tree is fighting a bailout for PG&E for the fires it caused in 2017 and a bailout for SCE for the Thomas Fire.  Wild Tree supported the CPUC decision that PG&E decision to file bankruptcy made it ineligible for a bailout but opposed the CPUC’s leaving the door open for an SCE bailout.  PG&E has filed an application for reahearing of the CPUC’s decision which Wild Tree has opposed.

  • Wild Tree Comments on the Proposed Decision  – The CPCU should have deferred approval of SB 901 stress test methodology to a full administrative hearing opened if and when SCE files an application for recovery of costs for the 2017 Fire it caused.   Nonetheless, Wild Tree supported a decision that was limited to prohibiting PG&E from a SB 901 bailout, not expanding bailouts beyond 2017, and only allowing a bailout following an application for cost recovery. 
  • Wild Tree Opposition to Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Application for Rehearing – Wild Tree has argued that the Commission’s decision to prohibit PG&E from being bailed out by the ratepayer for the 2017 fires under SB 901 because it filed for bankruptcy should be upheld. 

Bailout for Future Fires: CPUC proceeding R.19-07-017 implementation of AB 1054. Wild Tree advocated that a $15+ billion rate increase to fund the pre-bailout wildfire insurance fund is unconstitutional, unreasonable, unjust, and unsafe.  Unfortunately, the CPUC approved future bailouts as part of AB 1054 “wildfire insurance fund.” 

  • Wild Tree Comments on the Proposed Decision – Approval of the proposed decision to fund the Wildfire Fund would be an abuse of discretion and an unconstitutional taking of ratepayer property without due process of law.
  • Wild Tree Comments on the Scoped Issues – Commission must deny increase in rates to fund Wildfire Fund because it cannot guaranteed due process rights of ratepayers and because the Fund will disincentive the investor owned utilities to prioritize safety over profit.
  • Wild Tree Reply Comments on the Scoped Issues – Evidentiary hearings are required pursuant to the right to notice and meaningful opportunity to be heard.