The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has approved a $45 million settlement with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in connection to the utility’s role in the 2021 Dixie Fire, marking a significant move towards addressing one of the most devastating wildfires in California’s history.
The Dixie Fire, which ignited on July 13, 2021, in Plumas County and eventually merged with the nearby Fly Fire, ravaged nearly a million acres across five Northern California counties. It was triggered when a Douglas fir tree fell into PG&E’s power lines, according to investigations by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). This incident has been recorded as the second-largest wildfire in the state, causing extensive damage and prompting serious scrutiny over PG&E’s operational and safety practices.
Under the settlement terms, PG&E will allocate $40 million towards transitioning hard copy records to digital formats for better management of distribution patrols and inspections. Additionally, the utility will pay fines amounting to $2.5 million to the California General Funds and contribute another $2.5 million to tribes affected by the fire, acknowledging the significant impact on tribal lands and communities.
Despite agreeing to the settlement, PG&E maintains that it operated prudently and denies any wrongdoing or failure in its responsibilities. The company has emphasized its compliance with CPUC requirements and its proactive measures in system maintenance and operation. Furthermore, PG&E has committed to burying 10,000 miles of power lines as part of its efforts to mitigate wildfire risks, reflecting on lessons learned from the Dixie Fire and previous incidents.
This settlement follows a series of legal challenges for PG&E, including a $59 billion reorganization plan approval post-bankruptcy and agreements to pay hundreds of millions in civil claims related to the Dixie Fire. The utility has also faced penalties for other fire incidents, including a $125 million penalty for the 2019 Kincade Fire and a combined $200 million in criminal and regulatory fines for the Zogg Fire.
The CPUC’s decision underscores the ongoing challenges in managing wildfire risks in California and the critical need for utilities to ensure the highest standards of safety and operational integrity. PG&E’s settlement and the accompanying commitments mark a step forward in addressing these challenges, with the CPUC ensuring compliance and oversight through annual reports from the utility.