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California utility PG&E agrees to $45M settlement for 2021 Dixie Fire

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) will pay $45 million for its involvement in California’s second largest-ever wildfire, state regulators announced Thursday.

The settlement pertains to the 2021 Dixie Fire, which began in July 2021 and was kindled after a Douglas fir tree fell and hit energized conductors owned and operated by the utility, according to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

The Dixie Fire scorched 963,309 acres of land and was active for more than three months before its full containment on Oct. 25, 2021, Cal Fire reported at the time.

The massive fire — which encompassed an area about the size of Rhode Island — burned through five Northern California counties: Butte, Plumas, Shasta, Lassen and Tehama.

“We accept Cal Fire’s finding that a tree falling into our powerline caused the fire,” PG&E said in a statement emailed to The Hill. “However, PG&E believes we acted as a prudent operator.”

“There is no evidence that PG&E consciously and willfully disregarded a known risk with regard to the ignition of the Dixie Fire,” the company added. “We followed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) requirements when inspecting, maintaining and operating our system.”

Under the settlement, PG&E will pay $40 million into shareholder funding to convert hard copy records to electronic ones — helping improve “the timeliness of inspection and preventive maintenance,” per the CPUC.

Another $2.5 million in fines will go toward the California General Fund — a part of the state budget that usually serves health, education and prison services.

The last $2.5 million, per the CPUC, will fund remediation efforts for tribes affected by the Dixie Fire and will be distributed through a nonprofit coalition representing the groups: the Greenville Rancheria and Maidu Summit Consortium.

The CPUC noted its previous “actions to hold PG&E accountable for safely serving its customers,” most recently including fining the company $132,500 for safety violations in the 2021 Brewer Fire and $150 million for the 2020 Zogg Fire.

PG&E stressed in the emailed statement that the company has resolved civil claims with the five counties affected by the Dixie Fire, while also reaching settlements with individuals and families and engaging with local organizations to rebuild their communities.

The statement noted that although PG&E will not request rate hikes from customers to fund the electronic records transition, the settlement “does not preclude PG&E from receiving cost recovery for costs related to the fire, including from the state’s Wildfire Fund.”

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