PG&E customers may end up footing Camp Fire liability claims

PARADISE, Calif. -- The cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation and may take months to determine. Despite that, PG&E may turn to its customers to help cover its potential liability costs. It could seek a rate increase, for example.

However, ABC sister station KGO-TV has learned it won't get help from a new law that provides relief from last year's claims.

A bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown may have been designed to help PG&E pay for catastrophic expenses, including liability claims, from wildfires. It doesn't, however, cover fires in 2018.

RELATED: PG&E says if found responsible for Camp Fire, cost would exceed insurance coverage

SB 901, authored by Napa area State Senator Bill Dodd, allows PG&E and other utility companies to pass along those costs to ratepayers by having the state finance that debt with long-term bonds.

Its estimated $1 billion in bonds would cost the typical residential customer $5 per year. The new law covers last year's fires and those in 2019 and beyond, but it wouldn't cover the massive Camp Fire, which killed dozens. Cal Fire has not established responsibility for the devastating blaze.

"PG&E is looking for ratepayers to pick up the bill. That's why they're going through all these theatrics," said Mark Toney, executive director of the utility watchdog group TURN.

PG&E has disclosed in federal documents its potential liabilities from claims far exceed its $1.4 billion in insurance coverage, raising questions who will cover the $10 billion in claims from last year and the potential for billions more if it's blamed for the Camp Fire.

"You still need somebody to maintain the utility infrastructure, including the transmission poles and wires and the distribution poles and wires," said former California Public Utilities Commissioner Catherine Sandoval.
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