The Latest: Utility Regulator Says Pole Inspections Arduous

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California’s top utility regulator says it would take as many as 20,000 new workers to inspect every utility pole and wire in the state. California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker says that won’t work, but regulators may turn to drones to monitor the equipment. Picker spoke about wildfire safety efforts and Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.’s bankruptcy to lawmakers at a hearing in Sacramento on Wednesday. The PUC regulates investor-owned utilities. It is considering replacing PG&E’s board, breaking up its gas and electric divisions or other big changes in a review that will likely take a year. Picker says the PUC has learned fines alone haven’t been enough for PG&E to change its behavior. Lawmakers questioned whether the PUC is acting fast enough to prevent future wildfire damage. Some 1,000 lawsuits have been filed demanding Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pay for damages caused by wildfires. The lawsuits involve thousands of people, companies, cities and counties, and claim the utility’s equipment caused wildfires. Plaintiffs range from Oroville rancher David Martin’s $3,000 small claims complaint to insurance companies’ demands for billions of dollars in reimbursements for payments to policyholders. Cities and counties are suing PG&E for destroyed schools, parks and other public property in addition to the cost of responding to the fires. PG&E lawyers have filed denials of responsibility in the courts, but when the company sought bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, it cited at least $30 billion in potential liability from those and other lawsuits. PG&E says bankruptcy will help settle the litigation in an orderly and fair manner.

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