(US NEWS) – California's electric utility is facing historic financial liability if it's deemed responsible for a deadly wildfire ravaging Northern California, but a lifeline from the state Friday suggested that it just may be taxpayers who help foot the bill.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. this week disclosed that it had "experienced an outage" and damage to a transmission tower near the origin one of the largest of several fires burning in Northern and Southern California, the Camp Fire. The incident was apparently reported to the utility mere minutes before the blaze started.
PG&E's disclosure, contained in a regulatory filing, sent shockwaves through a state already reeling from the toll and magnitude of the blazes, which have blanketed much of it in acrid smoke. Under California law, if investigators determine that PG&E's equipment contributed to the fires, the utility could be on the hook for billions of dollars even if authorities conclude it wasn't negligent.
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Damages could reach as much as $6.8 billion or even $15 billion, according to assessments by Moody's and Citigroup, respectively, amounts far beyond the utility's insurance coverage and the cash it has on hand.