SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Aug. 29, 2018 – PG&E was showered with gifts including guarantees of customer revenue and limits on corporate liability with the wildfire conference committee’s adoption of SB 901. Consumers were left holding the bag. TURN remains firmly opposed to this scheme that would allow unlimited rate hikes to pay for utility negligence, and give utilities a blank check for self-described safety projects going forward. In light of PG&E’s repeated criminal convictions, the legislature should require more accountability, not less.

The bill approved by the committee mirrors PG&E’s agenda too closely. Customers’ bills would no longer be limited to the costs of safe and reliable service. Instead, PG&E gets to bill for costs resulting from negligent and even criminal behavior, which is a bailout, plain and simple.

To make matters worse, PG&E and other utilities will get a blank check for anything they attribute to wildfire safety, despite PG&E’s previous failures. Utilities need only to slap a safety label on whatever they want customers to pay for and it will be approved, with no proof of cost-effectiveness required.

The haste of the legislative process was unnecessary and led to a poor outcome for consumers.  We still don’t know whether PG&E will face any liabilities from the Tubbs fire, or how much those liabilities could cost.  Yet legislators rushed to approve a bailout bill on the assumption that PG&E will, once again, be held responsible. And left room for future bailouts.

The bill could leave PG&E’s customers paying for this bailout, and future ones, for decades to come. “ It adds insult to injury for the committee to claim it is acting in the name of consumer protection,” said Toney. This is utility protection of the worst kind.” SB 901 is overly generous to utilities in:

  • Permitting bill increases for costs arising from negligence that have historically been excluded from rates.
  • Not capping the costs that can be passed on to ratepayers, even in cases of negligence.
  • Not requiring commensurate investor responsibility or sharing of the burden.
  • Failing to protect against utility spending on unnecessary and duplicative projects.
  • Applying “Stress test” for 2017 to limit amount PG&E would pay for its own bad actions.

TURN believes no one should be cut off from essential electricity, gas or phone service. We hold utility corporations accountable by demanding fair rates, cleaner energy and strong consumer protections.

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