• April 19, 2019

U.S. judge orders PG&E to hold dividends to pay for efforts to reduce wildfire risks


SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A U.S. decide stated on Tuesday that PG&E Corp can’t resume dividends and should use the cash to scale back wildfire danger in California, stopping in need of extra expensive measures he proposed earlier this yr.

FILE PHOTO: PG&E works on energy traces to restore harm brought on by the Camp Fireplace in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

The brand new prison probation phrases for PG&E are modest in contrast with ones the decide had in thoughts in January and that PG&E stated may have value upwards of $150 billion.

The phrases will, nonetheless, preserve PG&E below the supervision of Decide William Alsup of the U.S. District Courtroom for the Northern District of California and maintain the corporate, which is also in Chapter 11 chapter, to its goal for clearing areas round its energy traces of some 375,000 timber this yr.

PG&E’s probation stems from its felony conviction after a lethal 2010 pure gasoline pipeline blast in San Bruno, California, close to San Francisco, that killed eight folks and injured 58 others.

PG&E filed for chapter safety on Jan. 29 in anticipation of liabilities from wildfires, together with a catastrophic 2018 blaze, the Camp Fireplace. It killed 86 folks within the deadliest and most damaging wildfire in California historical past.

At a January listening to, Alsup, who’s overseeing PG&E’s probation, stated he felt compelled to suggest extra probation phrases within the aftermath of Camp Fireplace. San Francisco-based PG&E expects its gear shall be discovered to have precipitated the blaze.

The probation course of is separate from San Francisco-based PG&E’s chapter.

As the corporate faces $30 billion in wildfire liabilities and chapter proceedings, the power firm is predicted to call as its new chief government Invoice Johnson, a supply stated on Tuesday. Johnson has been the CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority since 2013 and is retiring on Friday.

Extra probation phrases imposed by Alsup on Tuesday would require PG&E to fulfill objectives in a wildfire mitigation plan it unveiled in February.

The objectives embody eradicating 375,000 lifeless, dying or hazardous timber from areas at excessive danger of wildfires in 2019, in contrast with 160,000 final yr.

The decide stated PG&E won’t be able to pay shareholders till it complies together with his new probation phrases.

Shares fell 2% on Tuesday to shut at $17.66 on the New York Inventory Change and are down 63% since November 2018 as a consequence of issues in regards to the firm’s chapter and wildfire liabilities. The shares traded as little as $5.07 in January.

PG&E in December 2017 suspended its quarterly money dividend, citing uncertainty about liabilities from wildfires in October of that yr that struck Northern California.

PG&E paid $798 million in dividends in 2017 and $925 million in 2016, a interval by which the corporate did a poor job of clearing areas round its energy traces of hazardous timber, based on Alsup.

Cash meant for shareholders ought to have been spent on efforts to scale back wildfire dangers lately, Alsup stated at Tuesday’s listening to.

“PG&E has began far more than its share of those fires,” Alsup stated.

“I need to see the folks of California secure,” the decide added.

Legal professionals for PG&E didn’t contest the brand new phrases, which the corporate considers extra possible than phrases Alsup proposed in January.

FILE PHOTO: Pacific Fuel and Electrical (PG&E) vehicles are seen parked on a highway between properties destroyed by the Tubbs Fireplace in Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

To adjust to the phrases Alsup proposed in January, PG&E stated it must take away 100 million timber. The corporate added that shutting energy traces throughout excessive winds as Alsup proposed wouldn’t be possible as a result of the traces traverse rural areas to service cities and suburbs.

Idling traces may additionally have an effect on the facility grid in different states, PG&E stated.

Alsup on Tuesday stated he was nonetheless contemplating his proposal to require PG&E to close down energy traces throughout windy climate to forestall tree branches from making contact and sparking fires.

Reporting by Jim Christie; enhancing by Nick Zieminski and Lisa Shumaker

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