PG&E agrees to $1 billion in settlements with California towns and counties

(image of pg&e truck parked) image by Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. agreed to pay $1 billion to the city of Paradise, but also to Butte County and other counties in Northern California as part of a negotiated civil settlement for a string of wildfires caused by the utility that ravaged the region. 

The settlements, announced on Tuesday, include PG&E paying Paradise $270 million and Butte County another $252 million, where last November the deadly Camp Fire happened. 

The settlement agreement, part of the continuing bankruptcy process of the utility company, involved fires triggered by PG&E equipment in 2015 and 2017. PG&E representatives released a statement on Tuesday saying that the utility reached a handful of settlements as part of its ongoing financial restructuring plan in the federal bankruptcy court. The agreement still needs to be approved by the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the finances of PG&E. 

The settlement does not affect the billions of dollars sought in private civil lawsuits filed against the utility by individuals and businesses affected by the wildfires. 

Tuesday’s announcement comes after a Cal Fire report in May that found PG&E equipment caused the Camp Fire – the deadliest in California history. The state sent Cal Fire’s findings to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsay, whose office is reviewing it for possible criminal violations by the utility. 

“This settlement goes a long way to assisting these government organizations to restore their communities together,” attorney Scott Summy said on Tuesday afternoon. “They can begin to reconstruct using these government resources.” 

PG&E also said that the 2015 Butte Fire, which killed two individuals and blackened approximately 71,000 acres in Amador County, which includes the Calaveras County Water District, has reached contracts with public entities. 

In total, 14 cities and counties in Northern California were involved in the settlement agreement. When a plan will be approved, it’s uncertain, but it could be next year sometime. 

In a statement, PG&E said it remains “focused on supporting our customers and communities impacted by wildfires and helping them recover and rebuild,” calling the pacts “an important first step toward an orderly, fair and expeditious resolution of wildfire claims.” 

“Our goal throughout the Chapter 11 process is to work collaboratively to fairly balance the interests of our many stakeholders, as well as the customers and communities we serve, as we work toward a timely resolution of our case, while continuing to provide the safe and reliable natural gas and electric service that our customers expect and deserve,” PG&E officials said in the statement. 

Butte County officials called the settlement a step towards stabilizing the hard-hit unincorporated areas of the county, including Magalia and Concow. 

“This is an important step towards stabilizing the county so we can continue to provide key services to residents, especially as our communities recover from the Camp Fire,” County Counsel Bruce Alpert said in a press statement. “There will be long-term impacts to the county that are unknown and unquantifiable at this time.” 

The Camp Fire was the deadliest in California history, killing 85 people, destroying 19,000 structures in Paradise, Concow, Magalia and other rural areas of Butte County and displacing hundreds of residents, many of whom wonder whether and when they will be able to return and rebuild. 

“The town of Paradise will rebuild and this is an important step toward our recovery,” Paradise Mayor Jody Jones said in a statement. Jones said she hopes Paradise will receive the money “as soon as possible so we can put it toward rebuilding our infrastructure.” 

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