BY Richard Summerfield
Californian energy provider PG&E Corp has filed a reorganisation plan which proposes to cap the wildfire liabilities that forced it into bankruptcy at about $18bn — less than half of what victims and insurers have said they are owed.
The plan, which was filed in US Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco, includes payments capped at $8.4bn for wildfire victims, payments capped at $8.5bn for reimbursing insurers that had paid victims and a $1bn settlement with local governments. The company was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January to deal with an estimated $30bn in liabilities related to devastating wildfires that its equipment ignited in 2017 and 2018. In its filing, the company listed $51.69bn in debts and $71.39bn in assets.
However, the exit plan may prove controversial as lawyers for fire victims said the company’s liabilities may top $40bn. Furthermore, insurance companies claim PG&E owes them approximately $18bn.
“This is outrageous,” said Gerald Singleton, a lawyer representing around 5500 wildfire victims. “PG&E is short changing the wildfire victims and is attempting to evade its responsibility.”
“Under the Plan we filed today, we will meet our commitment to fairly compensate wildfire victims and we will emerge from Chapter 11 financially sound and able to continue meeting California's clean energy goals,” said Bill Johnson, PG&E’s chief executive and president. “Throughout this process, we remain focused on the guiding principles of safely and reliably delivering energy to our customers, further reducing the risk of wildfires, and continuing to support the state’s clean energy goals. I am confident that we can, and will, provide better service to our customers and communities, and our Plan of Reorganization is another step in this process.”
Prior to the filing of its restructuring plan, the company has fended off a number of potential takeover and equipment offers. Last week, the city of San Francisco is believed to have offered $2.5bn for the company’s electrical equipment. The city’s offer is 35 times PG&E’s estimated 2019 earnings for the assets and described it as “a very attractive premium valuation” considering the company’s bankruptcy and other recent utility takeovers. However, this offer was rebuffed.
Going forward, PG&E said it would employ a combination of debt and stock to raise the cash to help finance its exit from bankruptcy.