The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a staff proposal on Monday seeking to impose a $45m penalty against Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for its role in the 2021 Dixie Fire.
If given approval by the CPUC Commission, the fine would see PG&E pay a $45m shareholder-funded fine. According to a press statement from the CPUC, $2.5m of this would go to the California General Fund, with another $2.5m going to tribes impacted by the Dixie Fire to help pay for remediations. The remaining $40m would pay for capital expenditures to transition records to electronic format.
Enforcement staff at the CPUC are recommending the penalty under an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) and Agreement, which it says is in line with its commitment to safety. The ACO and Agreement approach streamlines enforcement actions for the benefit of Californians.
The proposed settlement will be on the CPUC’s Voting Meeting agenda, due to take place on 16 November. The CPUC could adopt, reject or modify the proposal, it said.
The Dixie Fire, which started on 13 July 2021 and burned for more than two months, was caused by a tree falling on PG&E’s electrical distribution lines. It ended as the second-largest wildfire in California’s history, burning more than 963,000 acres of land across multiple counties and destroying more than 1,300 homes.
The CPUC has previously sued PG&E for its role in other wildfires in the state. In December 2021, it fined the company $125m for its role in the 2020 Kincade Fire. In May this year, it agreed to a $150m settlement from the power company in compensation for the 2020 Zogg Fire. In the same month, it fined PG&E $132m through a Staff Citation for safety violations related to the Brewer Fire in 2021.
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The CPUC’s decision follows a wider trend this year that has seen electrical companies sued for their potential role in wildfires. Hawaiian utility company Hawaiian Electric Industries was sued in August by residents of the US state after deadly fires tore through the island of Maui, killing almost 100 people and razing its historic town of Lahaina almost entirely to the ground. Plaintiffs accused the utilities company of causing the fire by failing to shut off power after warnings of dangerous fire conditions were sounded as a hurricane approached.