Utilities protected from costs

California's Legislature will be asked to protect utilities from possible bankruptcy by shielding them from billions of dollars in liability linked to this year's deadly swath of wildfires, it was reported Tuesday.

Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), plans to introduce a measure that could allow Pacific Gas & Electric and other utilities to pass onto customers some costs related to this year's fires, the San Jose Mercury News reported .

Holden chairs the state Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee.

"We want to send a signal to the financial markets that we are not going to leave the utilities flapping in the wind," Kellie Smith, chief consultant for the committee, told the paper.

"If a utility goes bankrupt, that will hurt ratepayers a lot more than this mechanism we are creating to make the utility pay until it hurts," Smith said.

It's unclear when the bill might be submitted. A message left for Holden spokesman Garo Manjikian was not immediately returned.

"There will be a time and a place for all of this, but right now, PG&E is solely focused on helping the first responders and helping our customers recover and rebuild," PG&E spokeswoman Andrea Menniti said Tuesday.

State officials have blamed fallen or sagging power lines and poles for sparking some of California's worst recent wildfires, and PG&E equipment specifically for 17 Northern California blazes last fall. PG&E already has told investors it expects to be on the hook for more than $2 billion in damages.

PG&E's stock plunged 60 per cent and the investor-owned utility lost $15 billion in valuation in the week following the Nov. 8 Camp Fire in Northern California, which has killed at least 81 people and destroyed some 13,000 homes.

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