Newsom pitches wildfire claims relief plan for PG&E — with conditions

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday outlined an ambitious plan that would help the embattled Pacific Gas and Electric Co. deal with any future wildfire liabilities — if the utility clears strict safety requirements and exits bankruptcy protection by next June.

Newsom’s proposal — his most concrete effort to address the severe financial problems wildfires are causing for California’s electric utilities — would aid PG&E and its Southern California counterparts by creating a new fund the utilities could tap into if their power lines spark more deadly fires like those that plagued the state in 2017 and 2018.

Rates would not rise because of what the governor outlined, according to his advisers, but the fund could be set up so that utilities and their customers pay as much as $21 billion (the ratepayer contribution would come from the extension of an existing charge).

In a meeting with The Chronicle’s editorial board, Newsom acknowledged that the plan was not perfect but said his team “looked at every option” and decided their current strategy is best.

“Wall Street is not treated well in today’s proposal,” Newsom told The Chronicle. “But ratepayers, taxpayers and victims are in a much better position.”

The financing tool proposed by the governor could function either as a line of credit or an insurance fund, which would require a multibillion-dollar investment from the state’s three major electric companies. Newsom’s office said the choice would be determined by Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, even though PG&E would likely pay the largest share in the latter option.

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