Lawmakers involved in PG&E bankruptcy to make it difficult to raise customer rates

California

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. continues to work through its bankruptcy process in connection with deadly wildfires.

“We can either be backed into a corner and forced to sign on to a deal coming from a group of predators or we can take a firm hand in this,” says Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo).

He wants lawmakers to get directly involved in PG&E’s bankruptcy. Hill presented SB 549 for the first time Wednesday, the measure would require the public utilities commission to get approval from the legislature before allowing PG&E to raise customer rates during its bankruptcy process.

“None of us want PG&E to emerge from this bankruptcy unchanged, we want a safer, more reliable and affordable utility that is responsive to California’s needs, that’s why our voice is so critical in this process,” Hill says.

Energy and utilities committee chairman Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) noted the public utility commisssion is already expected to represent the state’s interests in court.

“I think it’s a redundancy that’s not necessary beause it’s already built into the process. Nonetheless it’s a very special circumstance, I think it deserves a conversation, it deserves a debate,” Hueso remarked.

The hearing comes after a bankruptcy judge allowed PG&E to pay out $250 million in bonuses, while the utility also requested to get the approval to increase rates resulting in an average of $22 a month for each household beginning next year.

A bankruptcy law expert warned lawmakers they may not have as much leverage in the process if they don’t get involved soon.

“Right now you aren’t at the bargaining table directly, so it’ll be very easy for all the parties at the table to come up with a plan of organization that comes in the form of liability relief or a rate increase, and that may come back to this committee a year from now,” says Jared Ellias, a UC Hastings law professor.

The measure passed Wednesday and moves forward to another senate committee.

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