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Major utility implicated in more than a dozen wildfires files for bankruptcy

 PG & E transmission tower surrounded by fire.
Enlarge / Fire burns around PG & E transmission towers on Monday, November 12, 2018, east of Pulga, Calif.

On Tuesday morning, California Utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG & E) filed for Chapter 1

1 bankruptcy (PDF), citing billions of dollars in potential damages and fines stemming from liability in several 2017 and 2018 wildfires.

The utility noted that it has secured $ 5.5 billion in debtor-in-possession financing to continue operating while it restructures. PG & E is serving 16 million customers, primarily in Northern California.

PG & E announced that it would file for bankruptcy earlier this month, as it investigates some of California's deadliest wildfires pointed to sparks from PG & E's transmission equipment as the cause of more than a dozen fires over the last two years. Investigators have implicated PG & E at 18 wildfires that occurred during October 2017, according to The Wall Street Journal . The fires "burned nearly 200,000 acres, destroyed 3,256 structures, and killed 22 people, [the] WSJ noted.

Investigators are still looking at PG & E's equipment fall, killing 86 people. Late last week, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced (PDF) that PG & E was not responsible for the deadly October 2017 Tubbs Fire, which killed 23 people.

Still, despite being held responsible for the Tubbs Fire, PG & E says it could be on the hook for more than $ 30 billion in damages and fines related to California's wildfires. Climate change has exacerbated wildfires in California, and the state allows fire victims to bring damage to their sparks a wildfire.

Starting the fire

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported California's utility companies-including PG & E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric-had more than 2,000 fires between June 2014 and the end of 2017.

The damage caused by each fire ranged in size from just a few meters to thousands of acres. The data has come out of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which noted that just because a utility's equipment sparks fire, the utility is not negligent in its maintenance of the equipment.

But the sheer volume of the number of wildfires that are caused by electrical equipment. "Lacking the manpower and sophisticated technology necessary to monitor more than 250,000 miles of power lines across the state, regulators relying on something of an honor system, with utilities responsible for ensuring all the trees and vegetation are cut off from electrical equipment before the onset of dry, high-fire danger conditions, "the LA Times writes.

Some lawmakers are reportedly making safety guidelines for high-power transmission lines oversee the utilities. The CPUC has requested funding for 13 more positions to conduct utility-line safety audits. California's new governor, Gavin Newsom, has recently signed an order for the execution of state-of-the-art fire-detection technology throughout the country.

Fallout from PG & E's bankruptcy

PG & E argues that it has signed several renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPAs) 7.78 gigawatts of renewable contracts and 540 megawatts of storage) at high, early adopter prices.

"The Utility's entrance into these PPAs has been the building of thousands of megawatts of renewable energy generation resources In the marketplace, "PG & E wrote.

" As a result, many of the utility's agreements to procure renewable energy resources … obligate the debtors at rates that are currently higher than those currently available in the renewable resources market, "the utility continued.

Wholesale power provider NextEra has petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to prevent PG & E from trying to change its renewable contracts. FERC has said it will look into the matter concurrently with the bankruptcy court.

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