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PG&E wants rate increase to fund wildfire safety

9 most destructive wildfires in California history

The Camp Fire has broken historic records for destruction. See which wildfires have burned the most structures in California history.
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The Camp Fire has broken historic records for destruction. See which wildfires have burned the most structures in California history.

PG&E asked California regulators for a $1.1 billion rate hike Dec. 13, saying more than half the money would be spent on improving wildfire safety.

The embattled utility, under investigation for its possible role in the Camp Fire in November, told the Public Utilities Commission that the rate hike would increase household electric bills an average of $8.73 a month. Natural gas customers would pay an additional $1.84 a month if the PUC approves the increase.

PG&E has already been sued multiple times over the Camp Fire, and the company’s losses could be in the billions — adding to the potential liabilities the utility is facing from the October 2017 wine country fires.

In a statement posted on its website, PG&E said none of the dollars from the proposed rate hike would cover “potential claims resulting from the devastating 2017 and 2018 Northern California wildfires.” In September Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill, SB 901, that could allow PG&E to bill customers for some of its wildfire liabilities, depending on the company’s financial state. That protection, however, only applies to the 2017 fires.

The $1.1 billion in higher rates would begin in 2020, if approved by the PUC.

PG&E is also seeking an additional $454 million in 2021 and $486 million in 2022. Spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said the company doesn’t have data on what those additional increases, if approved, would mean for monthly customer bills.

PG&E said more than half the money would be spent on wildfire-risk initiatives, most of which have been announced already. They include installation of stronger power poles and lines; intensified tree-trimming and inspections; an increased real-time weather station network and installation of high-definition cameras in high-risk areas.

The utility this week disclosed to PUC officials that it found a broken hook on a transmission tower near the community of Pulga, the spot in Butte County where the Camp Fire is believed to have started. Lawyers suing PG&E on behalf of survivors have said they believe the broken hook might have allowed a high-voltage wire to make contact with the steel tower, showering the dry ground below with sparks.

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