Wildfires push the largest utility in California to declare bankruptcy

PG&E is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and is facing billions in liability from wildfires exacerbated by rising temperatures and drought.

The largest utility in California, Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation (PG&E), announced plans to file for bankruptcy protection as it faces “huge costs” from last year’s wildfires.

Analysts estimate that PG&E could face as much as $30 billion in liability because of the 2017 Wine Country fires and the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 86 people and destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County.

That figure includes civil claims filed by fire survivors and families alleging wrongful death, property damage, and personal injury. PG&E’s wildfire insurance for the year that began Aug. 1, 2018, covers $1.4 billion.

PG&E is currently under investigation for its potential role in causing the Campfire as reports indicate that the fire “may have been triggered by a spark from PG&E’s power lines”.

California is one of the few states that hold utilities liable for damages tied to their equipment, even if the companies were in compliance with the state’s safety rules.

Lawmakers have to decide whether or not the state’s utilities will be able to pass current – and what’s sure to be future – liability costs onto customers.

Amidst all these troubles, PG&E CEO Geisha Williams stepped down and was replaced by General Counsel John Simon on an interim basis.

This news should serve as a warning to big business on the cost of climate change.

The fall of a major utility is also a chilling example of how the impacts of climate change can pummel U.S. companies and taxpayers right now. And these risks are only growing.

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