The California Public Utilities Commission has penalized Pacific Gas and Electric $125 million for violations related to the 2019 Kincade Fire that burned more than 77,000 acres and caused the evacuation of about 185,000 residents north of Santa Rosa, California.
The fire started October 23 northeast of Geyserville, California and destroyed 374 structures.
The settlement agreed to last week requires that PG&E shareholders pay a $40 million fine to the state. The company will also not raise rates to cover the $85 million cost for permanent removal of abandoned transmission facilities, bringing the total fines and penalties to $125 million.
The company was charged with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors, including “unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in great bodily injury, unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in the burning of inhabited structures, and unlawfully causing a fire that resulted in the burning of forest land, as well as various air pollution crimes,” according to the District Attorney’s office.
Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection sent a report to the District Attorney’s office in July of 2020 which concluded PG&E’s equipment was at fault.
On October 24, 2019 PG&E filed a required preliminary report with the California Public Utilities Commission that stated “at approximately (9:20 p.m.) on Oct. 23, PG&E became aware of a Transmission level outage on the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230kV line when the line relayed and did not reclose. At approximately (7:30 a.m.) on Oct. 24, a responding PG&E Troubleman patrolling the Geysers No. 9 Lakeville 230 kV line observed that CalFire had taped off the area around the base of transmission tower 001/006. On site CalFire personnel brought to the Troubleman’s attention what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower.”
PG&E told a judge on November 29, 2019 that it was investigating whether there was a systemic problem with a piece of hardware on their high voltage electrical transmission towers that can start wildfires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Investigators with PG&E and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection were looking at the possible failure of jumper cables on towers near the points of origin of two huge recent fires, the 2017 Camp Fire at Paradise, California and the Kincade Fire.
Investigators determined that PG&E equipment started other fires in recent years. The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reported that investigators attributed more than 1,500 fires to PG&E power lines and hardware between June 2014 and December 2017. CAL FIRE attributed 12 large fires that started on October 8 and 9, 2017 to PG&E power equipment.
We constructed a list of 18 of the larger fires linked to PG&E equipment.