Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., the country’s largest utility, announced Monday it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy — a move that creates uncertainty as to whether Humboldt County energy ratepayers will be affected.
PG&E currently faces $30 billion in potential damages from litigation over a series of wildfires in California during 2017 and 2018. Many were killed and thousands of structures were destroyed.
“The number one priority must be to protect ratepayers and fire survivors,” state Sen. Mike McGuire said in a statement. “We must ensure PG&E doesn’t miss a beat with their electric and gas contracts and we must have survivors at the top of mind to make sure they are taken care of every step of the way.”
The Redwood Coast Energy Authority Board of Directors will receive an update Jan. 28 as to how the filing will impact local energy rates. The board has already heard from PG&E, which said the utility’s bankruptcy won’t change rates “in any way,” RCEA board member and 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell told the Times-Standard.
“We’re working with PG&E and (Community Choice Aggregators) to find out in the long term how they’re going to resolve PG&E’s role in the provision of power,” Fennell said.
The California Public Utilities Commission, which oversees all state utilities, could possibly look at a restructuring, Fennell suggested.
Locally, PG&E owns multiple Eel River dams and over 5,000 acres of land in the area, which the utility was using for the Potter Valley energy project. In September, the utility began seeking to auction off the parcels associated with the project.
Rep. Jared Huffman said the utility’s status will be a state issue and out of his purview, but he added that it’s “hard to imagine” that the bankruptcy won’t affect ratepayers at some level, given the scale of liability.
“As we work through this issue — and I have no idea how it ends relative to PG&E solvency — we have to confront this bigger issue of climate change and disaster preparedness,” Huffman said. “Whatever happens in the PG&E bankruptcy, I think we’re going to need to look at creative reforms so we don’t have mass firestorms caused by failed power supplies and dry conditions.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
PG&E tells local officials bankruptcy filing won’t affect energy rates, by Shomik Mukherjee, Times Standard, January 14, 2019.