Decoding the Cal Fire Report: What It Means & What Happens Next

Does the Cal Fire report mean PG&E will increase its rates? Why should PG&E be blamed for the fires, when they were caused by exceedingly high winds?

Get the facts here.


Does the Cal Fire Report Mean PG&E Will Increase its Rates?

Of course, PG&E will try to pass on the costs of the litigation to the rate payers. But, PG&E can’t raise rates unless the California Public Utilities Commission gives them permission. The CPUC won’t give them permission to collect the costs of settlements from the ratepayers unless PG&E proves to the CPUC that they managed their powerlines “prudently.” Cal Fire’s report found that PG&E violated state laws. This indicates that PG&E will likely not meet the CPUC’s standard in most of the October 2017 fires.

Following the San Bruno explosion and the 2015 Calaveras County fire, the CPUC denied PG&E’s requests for rate hikes and ultimately fined PG&E for its violations of state law. This means the costs of those settlements were paid by PG&E’s insurance and came out of corporate profits.

PG&E’s shareholders — not the ratepayers — should pay for damages PG&E caused in the October 2017 fires.

Why Should PG&E Be Blamed for the Fires, When They Were Caused by High Winds?

According to reports published to date by Cal Fire, PG&E’s power lines caused all of the 2017 fires. While the winds played a role in igniting the fires, Mother Nature should not be blamed. The wind events of October 2017 were typical Diablo winds and similar to the more commonly known, dangerous Santa Ana winds. They were not extraordinary.

The Diablo winds are caused by Nevada and Utah air descending from an elevation of 4,000 feet and getting pushed down to sea level and compressed, creating warm winds. While wind speeds were high in some areas of the North Bay at the time of the fires, they were not unforeseeable. In fact, the Diablo winds were predicted at least one week prior to the October 2017 fires. However, PG&E failed to power-down its powerlines in the known areas of danger.

PG&E also does not safely program its reclosers. The recloser is a device that automatically tries to restart the power lines that switch off, even if those lines are damaged or lying on the ground. That means it keeps pushing power through to downed powerlines, increasing the risk of starting a fire.

Additionally, according to prior fire investigations of PG&E, PG&E’s vegetation management program failed. PG&E must keep its lines clear of trees –- at least four feet from tree branches. That is a minimum standard. PG&E admits that it does not comply with the minimum standard at a rate of 1 out of 100 miles of its powerlines.

While PG&E cannot control the strength of the winds, it can be blamed for its mismanagement. PG&E should be held accountable for its failures in vegetation management and power distribution practices.