Pacific Gas & Electric Co., whose faulty equipment was blamed for sparking California’s worst wildfire of 2019, will pay $125 million in fines and penalties under a settlement reached with state regulators, officials announced Thursday.
Under a settlement agreement with the California Public Utilities Commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division, PG&E shareholders will pay a $40-million fine into the state’s general fund.
The utility also agreed not to raise rates to cover the $85-million cost for permanent removal of abandoned transmission facilities, bringing the total fines and penalties to $125 million.
An investigation by state fire officials found that a faulty PG&E transmission line sparked the Kincade fire, which tore through more than 77,000 acres of Northern California wine country in 2019.
“We will continue our work to make it safe and make it right, both by resolving claims stemming from past fires and through our work to make our system safer tomorrow than it is today,” said Paul Doherty, a PG&E spokesman. “As we’ve said previously, we accept Cal Fire’s finding that a PG&E transmission line caused the Kincade fire.”
Doherty said that the company continues to disagree with the Public Utilities Commission’s findings of violations but that its leadership believes in “settling reasonable disagreements.”
“We believe the settlement will assist in allowing all parties to move forward from the fire, and permit us to focus on compensating victims and making our energy system safer,” he said.
The fire started Oct. 23, 2019, and burned for nearly two weeks as dry, gusty conditions whipped it into an inferno that spread through Sonoma County.
Much of the region had been enduring power outages planned by PG&E as the utility resorted to shutting down power to millions of customers on the hottest, windiest days in an attempt to avoid sparking fires.
But the utility left its more vital transmission lines energized.
Soon after the Kincade fire grew, PG&E notified the commission that it had issues with transmission equipment near the fire about the time the blaze began.
An investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that the fire, which burned 77,758 acres and destroyed 374 buildings, was caused by faulty PG&E equipment.
In a statement Thursday, the Public Utilities Commission said its safety division’s investigation into PG&E infrastructure found multiple violations.
“The settlement addresses the violations through shareholder-funded permanent removal of multiple abandoned transmission facilities within PG&E’s service territory,” the commission’s statement said.