PG&E says its distribution lines caused no deadly fires in 2019


(Reuters) – California utility PG&E Corp (PCG.N) has determined there were no lives or structures lost in 2019 wildfires that may have been caused by its distribution lines, according to a Friday court filing.

The company also said it found 218 instances of damage from wind or falling vegetation that could have caused wildfires if it had not taken the controversial step of shutting power to millions of customers during high winds in late October.

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January to deal with $30 billion of liability from wildfires linked to its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

On Wednesday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali ruled PG&E is subject to the legal doctrine of inverse condemnation, which holds the company strictly liable for fires tied to its equipment, even if the utility was not negligent.

The ruling was a victory for wildfire victims who are pursuing PG&E for compensation, and the company’s stock fell around 5% in early Friday trading, before recovering most losses.

To try to prevent fires, PG&E has been using the mass blackouts during high winds and low humidity. Six of the 10 most destructive wildfires in California history have been caused by electrical equipment or power lines.

The company also said in Friday’s filing with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco that a broken PG&E cable reported in the area of Northern California’s massive Kincade Fire last month was last inspected on July 19.

Fire officials in California have not determined the cause of the Kincade Fire, which raced through Sonoma County wine country, charring more than 75,000 acres (30,351 hectares), destroying hundreds of structures and forcing thousands to flee.

PG&E was responding on Friday to questions from Judge William Alsup about late October fires to determine if the company has complied with terms of its probation imposed after a felony conviction over a 2010 pipeline explosion.

FILE PHOTO: An air tanker makes a retardant drop while battling the Kincade fire near Calistoga, California, U.S. October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

Alsup has ordered the company to adopt wildfire safety measures and to appoint a board of directors committee to be responsible for implementing those steps. He barred the company from issuing dividends until it is in compliance.

The company has been accused of cutting corners on maintenance, including on equipment blamed for last year’s Camp Fire, the most expensive in California history, which killed more than 80 people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

PG&E has said it strongly disagrees with allegations it failed to perform necessary upgrades.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del.; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Matthew Lewis



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