Fires put pressure on California utilities despite new law

California utilities again are facing severe financial pressures from the possibility that their equipment sparked catastrophic wildfires, including two that are now burning at either end of the state.

The pressure comes even though Gov. Brown had signed legislation in September giving utilities some relief beginning next year.

The law made it easier for utilities to pass along costs from fire-related damages to consumers and also avoid possible bankruptcy from a series of major fires that occurred during the 2017 fire season that produced more than $10 billion in losses.

But there was a gap in the law: No damages specific to 2018 were included, so utilities face a higher bar to bill customers to cover those costs.  And this year already supplanted 2017 as the most destructive in California's recorded history.

Authorities haven’t determined a cause for either of two major blazes burning now, but Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison have reported irregularities with their equipment near the time and place where both ignited.

A woman who owns land near the site where a deadly wildfire started in Northern California said that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. sought access to her property just before the blaze started because the utility's power lines were causing sparks.


Dawn Kamber