PG&E shares fall as California links utility company to wildfires

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.’s stock dropped more than 4% in trading Monday, days after state officials blamed the regional utility giant for 12 of the roughly 170 wildfires that ravaged Northern California last fall.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the fires in question “were caused by electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.” The department’s findings could expose PG&E to billions of dollars in damages, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

PG&E said it “meets or exceeds regulatory requirements” for power pole safety, adding that years of drought and high temperatures had exacerbated wildfires in the region and require new safety solutions.

“Liability regardless of negligence undermines the financial health of the state's utilities, discourages investment in California and has the potential to materially impact the ability of utilities to access the capital markets to fund utility operations and California's bold clean energy vision,” PG&E said in a statement.

PG&E faces more than 100 lawsuits related to the wildfires, the Chronicle reported. Cal Fire said last Friday that it had referred its findings on eight of the 12 fires to local prosecutors amid evidence of potential safety violations.

“This wasn’t good news,” Edward Jones analyst Andrew Smith said, according to Barron’s.  “It shouldn’t be a surprise that utility equipment is involved in the fire.”