SACRAMENTO — Stymied by controversy over a plan to make utility ratepayers responsible for some of the costs of wildfires, a special legislative committee Monday night punted the high-stakes issue to a proposed five-member commission that’ll have nearly a year to come up with solutions.

The commission’s structure and goals were detailed in a 72-page proposed wildfire response bill posted Monday night on the website of the 10-member bipartisan conference committee on wildfire prevention as it began deliberations in a nearly empty Capitol building.

Throughout the day Monday, lobbyists and other stakeholders in the contentious issue speculated on the fate of the proposed bill that initially included a plan to allow PG&E and other utilities to sell state-authorized bonds to cover a portion of the damages from last year’s devastating wildfires, with ratepayers responsible for paying the bond debt through their utility bills.

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 – For decades, Pacific Gas & Electric had been diverting money away from power line undergrounding projects to what it calls “other high priority system improvements.”

PG&E did not provide 2 Investigates details on exactly how much and where the diverted money went. A spokeswoman said the funds were directed to “other work as needed to provide safe, reliable and efficient service.”

But according to public documents obtained by 2 Investigates from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), over the last 17 years $246 million dollars meant for city and county power line undergrounding was left unspent.

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Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said Thursday in an early-morning investor call that the utility company anticipates being held liable for damages from the majority of October’s North Bay wildfires and on the hook for billions of dollars in losses, though how high that may balloon is unclear for now.

Cal Fire announced earlier this month that equipment owned and operated by PG&E triggered 12 of the Northern California wildfires, killing 18 people and destroying thousands of structures. Fire investigators found the utility was in violation of state code for failing to clear brush and maintain its equipment on eight of those fires.

Cal Fire has yet to issue a determination on the cause of the Tubbs fire that primarily affected Sonoma County.

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MENDOCINO, Calif. (KGO) — Cal Fire made an announcement Friday determining the cause of nearly all of the North Bay Wildfires, which broke out on October 8, 2017 and burned more than 200,000 acres and claimed 44 lives.

On Friday, Cal Fire said 12 of the wildfires that broke out in Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, Sonoma, Lake, and Napa Counties were caused by “electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.”

The October 2017 fire siege involved more than 170 fires and burned at least 245,000 acres in Northern California. About 11,000 firefighters from 17 states and Australia helped battle the blazes.

CAL FIRE investigators were dispatched to the fires last year and immediately began working to determine their origin and cause. Cal Fire investigators continue to investigate the remaining 2017 fires, both in October and December, and will release additional reports as they are completed.

The only fire not included is the Tubbs Fire, because Cal Fire says that report is not out yet. The Tubbs fire burned nearly 37,000 acres of Napa and Sonoma County.

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THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | June 8, 2018, 4:17PM

Cal Fire investigators said Friday that equipment owned and operated by PG&E ignited 12 wildfires that raged in hot, dry weather and high winds across Northern California in October, charring hundreds of square miles in Sonoma County and beyond, destroying thousands of structures and killing 18 people.

The utility was in violation of state code on eight of those fires, failing to clear brush around its lines and properly maintain its power equipment, according to state fire investigators.

Cal Fire found violations in the Norrbom, Partrick, Pythian, Adobe and Pocket fires that burned in Sonoma and Napa counties; the Atlas fire in Napa County; the Sulphur fire in Lake County; and the Blue fire in Humboldt County. The agency forwarded its reports to district attorneys in those jurisdictions for review.

In the other four fires — the Redwood in Mendocino County, Cherokee in Butte County and the 37 and Nuns fires in Sonoma County — flames were ignited by power equipment but investigators found no evidence the utility company had violated state regulations.

The report is the latest set of findings from state fire investigators examining the causes of dozens of fires that burned more than 245,000 acres across Northern California in October, destroyed nearly 6,200 homes and killed 44 people.

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NBC Bay Area – Click here to watch video

PG&E auditors allow one out of 100 trees they check to violate state power line clearance standards, NBC Bay Area has learned.

But critics say one out of 100 is one too many.

PG&E’s CEO has staunchly defended the utility’s program, which came under scrutiny after the 2015 Butte Fire that killed two and devastated more than 70,000 acres in Amador and Calaveras counties.

“Our people are well-trained, our patrols are terrific, we are on time, everything is going great,” Geisha Williams said in July, during a videotaped deposition in the Butte fire litigation.

Last week, Williams reiterated her defense of the company’s effort to manage the 55 million trees that grow near its power lines.

“We also have one of, if not the most comprehensive vegetation management programs in the country,” she told shareholders in the company’s quarterly earnings call last Thursday, with the company spending more than $400 million last year on clearing trees because of the drought.

“Through its Electric Vegetation Management program,” the company said Monday in a statement, “PG&E dedicates hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of workforce hours to help enhance safety and reduce electrical outages and wildfire risks.”

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In the first results of its investigation into the firestorms that erupted across Northern California last October, Cal Fire said Friday that PG&E allegedly failed to remove or trim trees next to power lines that sparked three wildfires in Butte and Nevada counties last fall.

Cal Fire said its investigators found evidence in both counties that PG&E violated state code requiring utilities to maintain adequate clearance between power lines and vegetation.

PG&E said it looked forward to reviewing the findings. “Based on the information we have so far, we believe our overall programs met our state’s high standards,” the company said in a statement.

Cal Fire has not released the results of its investigation into the cause of the massive wildfires that exploded Oct. 8 in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties. The fires killed 40 people, destroyed almost 6,200 homes and triggered more than $9.5 billion in insured claims in the North Bay.

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By Molly Casey | KSBY

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) wants to change the law so privately-owned utilities, like itself, are no longer held financially responsible for damage caused by wildfires. 

The North Bay fires that broke out in October destroyed thousands of homes and killed more than 40 people in northern California wine country.

More than $9 billion dollars in insurance claims have been filed since the fires. 

While CAL FIRE investigators have not yet released the official causes if the 19 fires, lawsuits against PG&E are piling up, with plaintiffs claiming the company’s power lines and other equipment sparked at least some of the fires.

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Santa Rosa city fire investigators have determined that PG&E power lines buffeted by heavy winds the night of Oct. 8 ignited at least two small fires in city neighborhoods, marking the first public reports by government authorities into what caused some of the dozens of blazes that erupted that night and became the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California history.

The findings, outlined in records obtained by The Press Democrat, focus on two smaller, lesser-known fires that burned separately from the large blazes that swept across the North Bay late Oct 8. and early Oct. 9, destroying 6,200 homes and claiming 40 lives.

In both cases — a fire that destroyed two homes on Sullivan Way near Howarth Park and another quarter-acre fire that damaged an outbuilding at a Montessori school on Brush Creek Road — investigators with the Santa Rosa Fire Department ruled that strong winds caused the PG&E’s power lines to arc, throw sparks and set fire to dry vegetation.

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PAUL PAYNE | THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | January 30, 2018, 6:53PM

Sonoma County officials said Tuesday that they will sue PG&E over the October wildfires, becoming the first government entity to take on the utility giant over its alleged role in the historic infernos.

The county is seeking in its planned lawsuit tens of millions of dollars in damages to clear debris, rebuild infrastructure and develop safety measures to prevent future disasters.

The move came about a month after the Board of Supervisors hired a group of private attorneys to represent them at a hearing to consolidate more than 100 similar suits from burned-out residents under a single San Francisco judge.

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