Officials announced in December that Southern California Edison (SCE) will pay $550 million in penalties and fines for its role in the Woolsey, Thomas, Meyers, Liberty and Rye fires in 2017 and 2018.
The settlement agreement with SCE was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on December 16 during a meeting. The wildfires destroyed thousands of homes and burned over 380,000 acres of land.
Commission investigators found that the fires were started because the utility violated California safety regulations regarding the maintenance, construction and design of communication facilities and electrical lines.
SCE’s shareholders must pay a $110 million penalty to the state’s general fund as well as $65 million which will go to improved safety under the agreement. The agreement also bars SCE from recovering $375 million worth of fire-related insurance claims from ratepayers.
“Thomas and Woolsey, by any definition, were catastrophic, but all five of them impacted communities, families, local governments and health and safety personnel,” said CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen. “We can’t and should not minimize the great hardship and suffering that resulted from these fires, and from Edison’s violations.”
The settlement was “fair and reasonable,” according to SCE spokeswoman Gabriela Ornelas, who stated the utility continues to implement increased circuit segmentation, grid hardening, insulated wires, more precise public safety power shutoffs, and insulated wires as a comprehensive wildfire risk mitigation strategy.
10% of California’s fires in 2019 were caused by electrical equipment, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
December 2017’s Thomas Fire started after SCE power lines came into contact with one another, according to CPUC. That fire burned 280,000 acres of land, damaged over 1,300 structures and killed two people in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and was California’s largest wildfire in history at the time. The burn scar from the fire also led to mudslides which killed 23 people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of structures.
SCE has stated its equipment was probably “associated” with 2018’s Woolsey Fire, which burned over 1,600 structures in Ventura and Los Angeles counties and led to three deaths. The fire was the eighth-most destructive wildfire in the history of the state.
The Rye, Liberty and Meyers fires occurred in December 2017 and collectively burned around 6,400 acres of land in California.
The commission reached a similar agreement in December with Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which agreed to pay $125 million in penalties and fines for its role in 2019’s Kincade Fire.