By Jose Cruz Roa
SACRAMENTO, CA – On April 11, 2022, one of the largest electric providers in the United States, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has agreed to pay 55 million dollars in penalties as part of a settlement for two wildfires that occurred in Northern California due to the company’s faulty utility equipment.
As part of the settlement, the agreement allows PG&E to avoid criminal prosecution for the 2019 Kincade Fire and the 2021 Dixie Fire.
According to Cal Fire officials, it was reported that the Kincade Fire, which was caused by a broken jumper cable on a transmission line, destroyed more than 374 homes and burned more than 77,000 acres of Sonoma County land. It was also the county’s largest evacuation in history.
In 2021, Sonoma County district attorney Jill Ravitch charged PG&E with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors for the Kincade Fire. However, according to a settlement with the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E agreed to pay a fine of 125 million dollars.
The settlement included Sonoma County prosecutors having agreed to drop 33 criminal charges that were filed last year. This includes the accusation of PG&E inadvertently injuring six firefighters and endangering public health with smoke and ash from the Kincade Fire.
“Although criminal charges are dismissed, the level of punishment and oversight provided by this judgment is greater than could be achieved against a corporation in criminal court,” said Ravitch.
“We have limited tools and criminal law to deal with corporations and what we were able to do here was to get a five-year agreement that they will be overseen, that there will be an independent monitor, and that they will have to meet certain benchmarks,” expressed Ravitch.
In addition to the Kincade Fire, the Dixie Fire also caused great damage as it burned 963,000 acres over the span of three months and destroyed over 1,300 buildings across several counties including Shasta, Tehama, and Plumas.
“This settlement avoids both a bankruptcy and inordinate delay for the Dixie Fire homeowners and renters — particularly those without insurance,” Michael L. Ramsey, the district attorney for Butte County, stated.
Although the settlement includes two devastating wildfires, it does not include the Zogg Fire caused by trees contacting PG&E transmission lines. The Zogg Fire in Shasta County in the fall of 2020 burned more than 56,000 acres of land, left four people dead, and destroyed 204 buildings.
PG&E will not only repay the hundreds of people whose property was destroyed in the Kincade and Dixie Fires, but will also strengthen wildfire mitigation efforts.
This includes tens of millions of dollars in payments to local schools, government agencies, organizations, and an independent safety monitor for the life of the five-year civil judgment. Moreover, Sonoma County will be receiving more than seven million dollars in civil penalties while the other five counties will receive one million dollars each.
To strengthen wildfire mitigation efforts, PG&E plans to hire about 80 to 100 new wildfire safety positions in Sonoma County as well as in the other five counties where the wildfire had destroyed thousands of acres of land. The purpose of this is to strengthen vegetation management and equipment inspections.
“We are committed to doing our part, and we look forward to a long partnership with these communities to make it right and make it safe,” said Patricia K. Poppe, the chief executive of PG&E.
Overall, since 2017, PG&E has been blamed for more than 30 wildfires that have killed over 100 people and destroyed more than 23,000 homes and businesses.