California Power Company Tied to Last Year’s Deadly Camp Fire Is Filing For Bankruptcy

Could this be the end?
Photo: AP

California’s largest utility is in a death spiral in wake of the deadly Camp Fire last fall. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) announced Monday it’d be filing for bankruptcy on January 29.

This news comes after CEO Geisha Williams stepped down from her position Sunday and just days after Moody’s downgraded PG&E’s credit rating to junk status. So yeah, things aren’t looking too bright for the company, which may be responsible for the devastating Camp Fire that devoured the city of Paradise back in November. The wildfire killed some 86 people and injured countless others (including two incarcerated firefighters), making it the deadliest blaze in California’s history.

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A federal judge announced last week he’s planning to order the utility to inspect its electrical grid and clean up the trees near and around its lines. If ordered, the utility must meet these demands by summer when the state’s wildfire season officially begins.

This is hardly PG&E’s first rodeo with wildfires. In fact, its infrastructure has sparked at least 1,500, per Wall Street Journal reports, including a dozen Northern California fires in October 2017. Together, wildfires from 2017 and 2018 have resulted in some $30 billion in potential liability costs for the company. PG&E could even face murder charges for lives lost during these deadly events.

Flames during a December 2017 fire near power lines in Montecito, California.
Photo: AP

Following PG&E’s bankruptcy announcement, its already-shit stock crashed nearly 50 percent this morning. It’s hoping that filing for bankruptcy can help it bounce back. So far, the company doesn’t expect this move to impact its 15 million customers.

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“The people affected by the devastating Northern California wildfires are our customers, our neighbors, and our friends, and we understand the profound impact the fires have had on our communities and the need for PG&E to continue enhancing our wildfire mitigation efforts,” said interim CEO John Simon in a press release. “We remain committed to helping them through the recovery and rebuilding process.”

But the company may be nearing its end. The state is considering whether to break PG&E up into smaller pieces, or even take it public. No matter what happens, customers shouldn’t face significant power outages, per the San Francisco Chronicle’s analysis.

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Whatever happens to PG&E, California is set to become drier and warmer in the face of climate change, further increasing the risk of wildfires. If utilities don’t get their act together, more lives could be lost.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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