Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) avoided criminal charges in agreeing to pay more than $55 million in civil contributions and penalties as part of a settlement in California announced Monday regarding the utility company’s alleged role in the 2019 Kincade Fire and 2021 Dixie Fire.
The agreement prioritized payments to those who lost their homes and property and charitable contributions over seeking criminal charges. A consortium of five district attorneys, collectively referred to as the “North State DAs,” noted criminal fines regarding the Dixie Fire, which nobody died as a result of, would have totaled only $329,417, while civil penalties “maximize the return to the fire victims.”
As a result of the settlement, the criminal complaint against PG&E regarding the Kincade Fire will be dismissed. The company will pay more than $35 million to local charities and pay penalties and investigative costs to district attorneys’ offices representing six California counties.
PG&E did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement.
Safety efforts: After PG&E pleaded guilty in 2020 to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for causing the 2018 Camp Fire, the company announced organizational changes to its risk, audit, and safety leadership teams. In a statement Monday, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey acknowledged while PG&E has made “significant progress,” the settlement will “accelerate and cement” the company’s safety efforts.
One such effort includes “making detailed inspections of transmission towers mandatory every year, rather than the pre-Camp Fire practice of approximately every five years,” he said.
PG&E has also committed to create at least 100 new in-house positions in the North State DA counties to conduct electrical system inspections. The company will “establish a training program for tree crew and line inspectors” and “establish a program to perform actual visual inspection on all sides of potential strike trees near power lines in high fire threat areas,” the district attorneys stated.
Independent safety monitor: PG&E must pay up to $15 million per year for an independent safety monitor, tasked with monitoring its safety practices for the life of the five-year civil judgment, the North State DAs stated.
“The DA safety monitor will have actual ‘boots on the ground’ monitoring,” said Ramsey, who added the monitor will report directly to the district attorneys.
Filsinger Energy Partners will serve as the monitor, according to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.