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Judge proposes to require PG&E to inspect all lines for 2019 Calif. fire season

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Judge proposes to require PG&E to inspect all lines for 2019 Calif. fire season

A U.S. district judge in California proposed to require Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to inspect its entire electric transmission network and cut off power in areas deemed to be unsafe under certain wind conditions, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing PG&E Corp. utility's five-year probation in the deadly 2010 San Bruno, Calif., gas pipeline explosion case, wrote in a proposed order issued Jan. 9 that the goal is "to reduce to zero the number of wildfires caused by [Pacific Gas and Electric] in the 2019 Wildfire Season."

While on probation, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said, "PG&E shall not commit another federal, state, or local crime." In November 2018, Alsup asked the utility if any of its actions in the Camp Fire might violate the terms of its probation.

Now the federal judge is considering ordering Pacific Gas and Electric to remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its transmission lines or other equipment in high-wind conditions, maintain a record of its inspections, and assign certain safety ratings to lines. The utility may also be required to cut off power to lines not marked as safe if "winds of up to 30 [miles per hour] were expected in a certain county."

"This will likely mean having to interrupt service during high-wind events (and possibly at other times) but that inconvenience, irritating as it will be, will pale by comparison to the death and destruction that otherwise might result from PG&E-inflicted wildfires," Alsup wrote in the proposed order.

The proposed order comes on the heels of the company's announcement that three vice presidents who oversee transmission for Pacific Gas and Electric are retiring, and S&P Global Ratings' recent downgrade of the companies' credit rating from investment grade to speculative. Earlier, media reports said the beleaguered company may be exploring options to sell its gas utility business or file bankruptcy protection, as it reportedly faces at least $30 billion in liabilities for 2017 and 2018 wildfires, not including penalties, fines or punitive damages. PG&E Corp.'s shares have lost 64% of their value since Nov. 7, 2018.

The Camp Fire burned more than 150,000 acres of California, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire had claimed 86 lives as of Dec. 30, 2018, and destroyed 13,972 residences, 528 commercial buildings and 4,293 other buildings.