In Wake of Catastrophic Fires, PG&E Announces Plans to File for Bankruptcy

The future of the major utility company hangs by a thread — but Mayor Breed promises San Franciscans the lights won't go out.

A PG&E truck drives through a devastated Sonoma County neighborhood, Oct. 17, 2017. (Courtesy Image)

You know it’s bad when a CEO who gets paid more than $7.6 million annually decides to quit. But that’s exactly what Geisha Williams, former-CEO of tormented utility company PG&E, did on Sunday. Her actions coincided with the news that the company would be filing for bankruptcy on Jan. 29.

For the uninitiated: PG&E’s troubles began in earnest after the wine country fires — which devastated Santa Rosa and surrounding areas in 2017 and killed 15 people — were traced back to the company’s utility wires, which couldn’t withstand the season’s high winds and dry conditions. Last year, PG&E said it expected to have to pay at least $2.5 billion to cover lawsuits from the fire; far beyond its 2017 profit of $1.66 billion. 

Things got more dire with the Camp fire, which killed at least 86 people in Paradise and Magalia in November. Again, the source of the fire was traced back to PG&E’s transmission tower. 

As the utility company’s financial status became more transparently dire, protesters have flooded into California Public Utilities Commission hearings requesting that they not create a safety net for the company; which would end up falling on consumers paying higher fees to bail them out. Instead, they called for the creation of a public utility company. 

“I think an investor-owned utility is inherently at odds with public safety,” said Sasha Perigo. “An independent report issued by this committee in 2012 found that after the San Bruno fire, funds that were intended for safety had been diverted to executive pay and shareholder bonuses.”

But for now, the future of California’s major utility company hangs by a thread. Mayor London Breed released a statement Monday morning attempting to allay her constituents’ fears.

“I want to assure San Francisco residents that PG&E’s bankruptcy declaration will not impact their power service,” she stated. “People will still have complete access to power in their homes, their businesses, and throughout our city. I have directed the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to study any near and long-term impacts this bankruptcy will have on our city and to identify any and all options we have to ensure that everyone in San Francisco has access to clean, safe, and reliable power.”

Newly-sworn-in Governor Gavin Newsom also promised that electricity and gas service would continue to millions of Californians. But, he also said issues of accountability are front of mind. 

“While PG&E announced its intent to file bankruptcy today, the company should continue to honor promises made to energy suppliers and to our community,” Newsom stated. “Throughout the months ahead, I will be working with the Legislature and all stakeholders on a solution that ensures consumers have access to safe, affordable and reliable service, fire victims are treated fairly, and California can continue to make progress toward our climate goals.”

This is a breaking news story. Stay tuned for updates. 

View Comments