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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Chapter 11 After Failure to Appreciate the Scale of Risk: “PG&E Sparked at Least 1,500 Cal

January 14, 2019 articles around the web describe PG&E moving to file chapter 11 due to risks and potential liabilities. One of the articles, at the WSJ, describes PG&E equipment as playing a role in some 1,500 fires, some massive.

As with numerous past filers of chapter 11, one of the key problems is failure to understand the magnitude of risk, and lack of financial resources sufficient to pay when the risks come to fruition.  Indeed, that theme ripples through the WSJ’s reporting; some key quotes are pasted below:

“PG&E didn’t anticipate how quickly the drought would overtake heavily wooded areas north of San Francisco and outside Sacramento, said Stephen Tankersley, who oversaw PG&E’s vegetation-management program between 1999 and 2015. “It’s hard to believe that anybody would have predicted that it would have been like this,” said Mr. Tankersley, now a utilities consultant. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Conditions on the ground worsened dramatically and quickly, said PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo. She said the utility has reacted with speed and urgency. “We are very aware of the risk and we are doing everything we can to keep our customers and the communities we serve safe,” she said. “PG&E considers wildfire risk as a top-tier enterprise risk. It is evident in our actions.”


“We aspire to have absolutely no wildfires,” Ms. Williams [CEO at the time] said during a 2017 deposition in a lawsuit seeking fire-related damages from the company. She said operating thousands of miles of electrical conductors through forests created “an inherent exposure.” PG&E declined to make her available for an interview.”

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