Feb. 10--PG&E Corp. is asking for more rate hikes as it continues to wrestle with the fallout from California's devastating wildfires and the risks of new fires.
In a pair of filings late last week with the California Public Utilities Commission, the troubled utility asked for permission to charge ratepayers $1.4 billion for over the next two years.
The money would go for work that's been done to "harden" its electric grid against future wildfires and repair equipment damaged in last year's fierce windstorms. About a third of the money would go for buying additional liability insurance.
"This really goes to us taking action to build a more climate-resilient network," said PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo.
None of the money would go to pay for the billions in liabilities generated by past wildfires, including the 2017 wine country fires and 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise. The utility, which is struggling to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, has said its shareholders would absorb those liabilities.
If the PUC grants the requests in full, PG&E's electric rates would increase $9.10 a month for the average household customers. Natural gas customers' rates would increase $1.80 a month, Paulo said.
Some of the money is being sought on an "interim" basis, meaning PG&E is asking for higher rates before the commission can fully vet the requests. If the PUC late decides the utility wasn't entitled to the rates, "PG&E will return any overcollection of costs to customers with interest," the company said in its rate filing.
PG&E said some of the higher rates would go for repairing equipment damaged in a series of windstorms last year. But none would go toward the expenses related to the utility's controversial "public safety power shutoffs" last October, which blacked out hundreds of thousands of California as risky wildfire weather developed.
The higher rates would come on top of a possible $575 million rate increase that PG&E has negotiated with major consumer advocate groups. Much of that rate increase would go for additional work on hardening the grid set for this year, beyond what's already been done. The PUC still hasn't approved the $575 million increase.
The latest rate hike requests come as PG&E struggles to exit bankruptcy. The company has cut deals to pay $25 billion in claims from the previous wildfires but still needs the state's approval before it can leave Chapter 11. The next few months will prove critical, as PG&E has to be out of bankruptcy by June 30 to be eligible for funds from a $21 billion insurance pool created by the Legislature to pay for claims from future wildfires.
So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn't signed off on PG&E's bankruptcy plan.
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