SAN FRANCISCO — A day after PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection from what could be multi-billion dollar wildfire liability costs, a federal judge Wednesday declared the beleaguered utility in violation of its probation for the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion and spent three hours excoriating the company for its role in the blazes that have ravaged Northern California over the past two years.

“Does a judge turn a blind eye and let PG&E continue what you’re doing, let you keep killing people?” U.S. District Judge William Alsup said inside the San Francisco courtroom. “Can’t we have electricity that is delivered safely in this state?”

The finding sets the stage for the judge to add additional and costly terms to Pacific Gas & Electric’s criminal probation for the deadly pipeline blast — requirements such as inspections and tree trimming the utility says could cost billions of dollars and lead to customer rates rising five-fold. Alsup, who is monitoring the utility’s federal probation, did not make that decision at Wednesday’s hearing but said he would soon, as fire season begins in June. He said he would pay close attention to what PG&E submits as its newly required wildfire mitigation plan. That plan is due next week as part of a new state law.

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Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the San Francisco-based utility that provides power to most of Northern California, announced Tuesday that it has officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In an early morning statement, the company framed the move as a “reorganization” and promised to continue paying employees and providing service to millions of California homes:

As part of the filings, PG&E also filed various motions with the court in support of its reorganization, including requesting authorization to continue paying employee wages and providing healthcare and other benefits.

In the filings, PG&E also asked for authority to continue existing customer programs. […] PG&E expects the Court to act on these requests in the coming days. PG&E also intends to pay suppliers in full under normal terms for goods and services provided on or after the filing date of January 29, 2019.

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Campaign donations, talks with lawmakers raise credibility issues




LOS ANGELES — As California’s deadliest wildfire was consuming the town of Paradise in November, some of the state’s top utility executives and a dozen legislators were at an annual retreat at the Fairmont Kea Lani resort on Maui. In the course of four days, they discussed wildfires — and how much responsibility the power companies deserve for the devastation, if any.

It is an issue of increasing urgency as more fires are traced to equipment owned by California’s investor-owned utilities. The largest, Pacific Gas and Electric, could ultimately have to pay homeowners and others an estimated $30 billion for causing fires over the past two years. The most devastating of those, the Camp fire, destroyed thousands of homes in Paradise and killed at least 86 people.

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Facing staggering liability costs for its potential culpability in a series of deadly wildfires, the parent company of California’s largest utility is exploring whether to sell off a major part of the company, NPR has learned.

Internally, Pacific Gas & Electric has dubbed this strategy “Project Falcon.” Under the plan, the company would sell its natural gas division this spring. After years of deadly errors and safety violations, the utility giant is looking for ways to cover liability costs and avoid bankruptcy, a senior company official and a former employee with knowledge of the plan tell NPR.

All net proceeds from the sale of PG&E’s gas division would be used to set up a fund to pay billions of dollars in potential claims from wildfires, the sources said. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

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PARADISE, Calif. (KGO) –Pacific Gas & Electric could face potential criminal charges as serious as murder in the deaths of 86 people who died during last month’s Camp Fire in Butte County.

KXTV reports the revelation came from a brief from the California attorney general’s office asking a federal judge to weigh in on the potential criminal charges in the fire.

The official cause of the fire is still under investigation, but the utility discovered damaged equipment at the suspected ignition site of the fire.

The fire was the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.

(CNN) A California utility company said its crews found a damaged transmission tower and holes in a power pole at separate locations near the site where the Camp Fire started. More than a month after the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history broke out, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. released a more detailed account of outages it experienced that day. In a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E said one of its employees called 911 on November 8 — the day the deadly wildfire began — after spotting flames in the vicinity of a high-voltage tower near the town of Pulga in Butte County. That fire was reported almost 15 minutes after the utility experienced a transmission line outage at the same location, the company said. It was also around the same time the Camp Fire broke out.

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Catherine J.K. Sandoval

Catherine J.K. Sandoval is an associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and a former commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission. Views are her own.

As our state faces the present consequences of climate change, years of drought, and devastating wildfires, it is our legal and ethical duty to consider new approaches to manage utility infrastructure. Utility poles that line our streets and highways tether our homes, businesses, and schools to electricity, telecommunications, and Internet service that powers our economy and way of life. Yet, violations of California’s utility pole safety rules too often linger in plain sight for months, if not years. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is charged with ensuring that companies under its jurisdiction provide safe, reliable service, at just and reasonable rates, consistent with environmental standards. The ferocity and scale of wildfires associated with utility infrastructure since 2017 demand new approaches to protect public safety and forestall climate change.

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CORNING, Calif. — It’s been almost a month since the deadly Camp Fire began, but many evacuees are still living in RV’s across the Northstate including some at Rolling Hills Casino, like Gwen Nordgren.

She’s staying at the casino’s RV park with her dog and daughter’s family just two spaces away.

She says she knows her entire family lost their homes in Paradise.

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