PG&E Asks for Billions of Dollars From Ratepayers for Fire Safety, Plant Decommissioning

PG&E's Metcalf Transmission Substation southeast of San Jose. (Craig Miller/KQED)

PG&E is asking state regulators to allow major gas and electricity rate increases in coming years -- in large part, the company says, to help pay for a wildfire prevention program including new poles, covered power lines, weather stations and cameras.

If the California Public Utilities Commission approves the proposal, the average residential customer would see a monthly increase of 6.4 percent, or $10.57, starting in 2020.

The increase would amount to $1.06 billion more than what the commission approved the utility to collect in 2019. In the filing, PG&E says that additional funding be spent in three areas:

  • $579 million would go toward the company's wildfire safety program.
  • $273 million would go toward increases in liability insurance.
  • $204 million for gas and electric operations.

The utility's request, filed Thursday, was part of a routine process where the commission decides how much utilities can ask from ratepayers over a three-year period. This current request is for electric and gas rates covering 2020 to 2022. PG&E is proposing to invest a total of about $5 billion on wildfire safety measures over the next four years, according to the filing.

None of the new revenue would go toward legal claims from the deadly fires of 2018 or 2017, PG&E said. In the filing, the company says it had planned on asking for money for the safety improvements months before the deadly Camp Fire burned through Butte County, killing 86 people.

Cal Fire investigators have found that PG&E equipment sparked at least 16 of the fires during last year's deadly fire siege. They referred 11 of those cases to local authorities to prosecute. Authorities are still investigating the causes of the Camp Fire and Tubbs Fire, which killed 22 people in Sonoma County last year.

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A federal judge has asked the utility and its court-appointed monitor to determine whether the company had violated its probation stemming from the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion. Answers to the judge's query are due Dec. 31.

PG&E says that it's committed to safety.

"We understand and embrace our responsibility to safely provide electricity and gas to the communities we have the privilege to serve. As California experiences more frequent and intense wildfires and other extreme weather events, we must take necessary, bold and urgent steps to protect our customers. The prudent investments we are proposing will help build a safer and more resilient energy system for the future," said Steve Malnight, PG&E senior vice president of energy supply and policy.

The commission will hold a public workshop on the requested increases on Jan. 11, 2019, with public hearings to follow next summer.

Separately, the utility is also asking the commission to collect an additional $1.6 billion from ratepayers over a six-year period to pay for the decommissioning of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County. Under that proposal the average residential customer would pay an additional 2 percent, or $1.98 a month, over the next six years.

The commission denied the utility's requests for additional money to decommission the nuclear power plant in 2014 and 2017.

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