SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)- The chief executive officer of PG&E testified at a California Public Utilities Commission hearing in San Francisco Tuesday that “I’m going to do everything I can to make this right” for wildfire victims.
CEO Bill Johnson spoke on the first day of a seven-day evidentiary hearing before the commission on the utility’s proposed financial reorganization plan for exiting its Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In order to be eligible for a wildfire insurance fund established by a state law last year, PG&E must have its plan approved by the CPUC as well as by a federal bankruptcy judge by June 30.
Johnson, who took the helm of the utility last year, was questioned during the hearing by wildfire survivor Will Abrams of Santa Rosa about how he could assure fire victims that the utility’s managers had compassion for them.
“I’ve been to Paradise five times,” Johnson answered, referring to the Butte County town that was destroyed by the deadly Camp Fire of 2018, in which a total of 85 people died.
“We watched videos and listened to 911 tapes. If you think I’m not affected by this, you are wrong. This has affected me deeply. I’m going to do everything I can to make this right,” he told Abrams.
Abrams, a management consultant whose house was destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in 2017, has been allowed to be an official participant in the CPUC proceeding.
PG&E filed its Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, thereby obtaining a temporary freeze on its debts, last year in the face of billions of dollars of liability for wildfires sparked by failures in the utility’s electrical power lines and equipment.
Its financial reorganization proposal would include settlements of $13.5 billion for wildfire victims with uninsured losses, $11 billion for insurance companies that have paid claims and $1 billion to cities, counties and other public entities for wildfire costs.
The evidentiary hearing is scheduled to continue through March 4. The commission is considering hearing additional testimony in mid-March on a proposal by Commission President Marybel Batjer to require more governance and operational reforms as conditions of approval for the plan.
The wildfire insurance fund established by the Legislature in AB 1054 last year would contain $21 billion, half to be paid by utilities and the other half by their customers.
PG&E and the state’s other two largest utilities – Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. – have opted to participate.