Valley Voices

Payments to wildfire victims should not result in higher PG&E bills

In this Nov. 8, 2018 photo, a home burns during a wildfire in Paradise. PG&E equipment was later found to have caused the blaze that leveled the town.
In this Nov. 8, 2018 photo, a home burns during a wildfire in Paradise. PG&E equipment was later found to have caused the blaze that leveled the town. AP file

In a recent editorial regarding Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s ongoing rate proceeding, this paper noted something that is painfully obvious to San Joaquin Valley residents — higher energy bills are something that many simply cannot afford.

It’s true that many families San Joaquin Valley struggle to make ends meet as it is, and that Valley farmers have little margin to spare when it comes to processing and selling the crops that they rely upon to make a living. Sadly, it’s also true that millions of Californians were made victims by the wildfires of 2017 and 2018, and that those claims, like all others facing PG&E, must be settled if the company is to exit bankruptcy.

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Blong Xiong, executive director, Asian Business Institute and Resource Center in Fresno. Fresno Bee file

While those victims should be paid, and paid quickly, California’s leadership should make sure that not a dime comes from PG&E’s customers.

Fortunately, a solution is in the works.

A bipartisan bill currently proposed in the Legislature — Assembly Bill 235 — would provide a way to pay wildfire victims fairly and quickly without an increase to PG&E customer bills.

AB 235 would enable PG&E to use low-cost financing that would be gradually paid back using the company’s future profits, not customer bills. These bonds ensure that the victims of the 2017 and 2018 wildfires are paid quickly, and there that will be no cap on the total settlement amount with victims. The measure would also create critical state oversight of PG&E’s repayment plan, requiring the California Public Utilities Commission to ensure that it remains neutral to customers. It also expressly prohibits the possibility that PG&E could seek cost recovery for any claims stemming from these recent wildfires.

In other words, AB 235 would hold PG&E accountable to wildfire victims, while protecting PG&E customers from bill increases that they simply can’t afford.

We can all agree that the victims of these devastating wildfires must be paid fairly, but asking individuals and businesses to shoulder any portion of that burden would just be wrong. That’s why it’s refreshing that our elected leaders have proposed legislation that prioritizes and protects both wildfire victims and customers.

With all the uncertainty currently spinning throughout the financial world, lawmakers in Sacramento should be quick to support a balanced approach that will protect the interests of Californian business owners.

Blong Xiong is executive director of the Asian Business Institute and Resource Center in Fresno. He is a formeer Fresno City Council member.

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