California State Senate to Vote on Comprehensive Report to Prevent Catastrophic Wildfires and Protect Californians
SACRAMENTO – The California State Senate will today take up SB 901, the comprehensive legislative report detailing plans for preventing future catastrophic wildfires across the state while protecting utility ratepayers from unfairly bearing the costs of wildfire impacts.
Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, calls SB 901 a “commonsense solution that puts ratepayers and victims first, embraces wildfire-prevention best practices and reduces fire fuel in our forests.”
“We’ve done everything we can to protect ratepayers with this package,” Senator Atkins said. “Without it, our investor-owned and public-owned utilities face the dire prospect of bankruptcy. If we allowed that to happen, ratepayers would suffer deeply as rates spike, reliability is lost, and electric grid safety is compromised.”
“Our holistic approach will safeguard Californians against future firestorms by setting requirements for fuel reduction and better forest management practices,” said Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, who was the co-chairman of the wildfire preparedness and response conference committee and author of its principal legislation, Senate Bill 901. “This is about protecting ratepayers, not helping utilities. The fact of the matter is ratepayers would be hurt in a utility bankruptcy.”
“Failure to pass SB 901 is not an option as it would jeopardize thousands of families who have lost homes and all their possessions from recovering what they are entitled to recover and move on from the devastating tragedy of last year’s October wildfires,” Senator Dodd said.
The joint Assembly-Senate committee met six times since it was established by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders in early July.
- Adopts new requirements for investor-owned and public-owned utilities to implement comprehensive fire prevention plans.
- Streamlines landscape and forestry management to include small landowner incentives, fuel reduction and other measures to expedite the removal of dead and dying trees and chaparral.
- Inserts language from AB 425 (Caballero) which provides access to land that needs to be thinned in order to improve overall forest health and resistance to wildfires.
- Requires rigorous review of utility wildfire costs and expenses to determine which costs investors and ratepayers should bear.
- Allows the California Public Utilities Commission to authorize an investor-owned utility to “finance” costs that are put into utility rates when they are the result of a catastrophic fire.
- Contains requirements for investor-owned utilities and public-owned utilities to develop enhanced wildfire mitigation plans, prohibitions on ratepayers and utility customers being required to pay for energy company executive compensation and perks and worker protections.
- Supports firefighters and ensures utilities can have the workforce to respond to emergencies.
- Invests significantly in forest management and healthy forests over multiple years.
A strong coalition supports SB 901. Here’s what they are saying (a full list of supporters is attached):
Santa Rosa Press Democrat Editorial (August 28, 2018):
“We need to keep the lights on, and we need to make fire victims whole. Supporters of the legislative framework, including Dodd… understand that keeping PG&E solvent — but accountable — helps ratepayers in the long run and fire victims in the short run.”
Graham Knaus, Executive Director, California Association of Counties:
“This legislation makes significant progress toward minimizing the risk of future wildfires in California. SB 901 provides a solution that protects victims, enhances the safety of our communities, and ensures stability for utilities and ratepayers. It’s a prime example of what can be accomplished when we work together to find solutions to the major issues facing our state.”
Rex Bohn, Rural County Representatives of California, Chair and Humboldt County Supervisor:
“SB 901 will have real, on the ground impacts to prevent future catastrophic wildfire events like those that have devastated our rural communities over the past decade,” said. “We are most appreciative of the efforts to secure funding for vegetation management as this is the key to minimizing the impacts of wildfires that threaten lives, resources, and property.”
Carl Guardino, Chief Executive Officer, Silicon Valley Leadership Group:
“SB 901 is a comprehensive approach to addressing the increasing number of wildfires that impact all Californians. It balances impacts to ratepayers with the need to keep safe and adequate energy services delivered throughout the state. SB 901 makes it so utilities can remain essential partners in meeting our wildfire mitigation and clean energy goals.”
Brian Rice, President, California Professional Firefighters:
“Our ‘new normal’ for wildfires in California demands that we do better in preparation and prevention. SB 901 helps us prepare by enabling us to pre-position our crews at times of high risk. At the same time, it makes a substantial investment in fire prevention, forest management and risk mitigation, to help to keep catastrophic fires from starting in the first place.”
Robbie Hunter, President, State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO:
“We strongly support SB 901 because it will address California’s wildfire challenges with prevention programs to mitigate future disasters, strengthen our utility grid and provide important protections that shield ratepayers from unfairly shouldering the costs. This is a comprehensive fire safety measure that also helps stabilize utilities and protect the workforce as we adapt to climate change and its impact on our energy grid.”
Jay Ziegler, Director, External Affairs and Policy, The Nature Conservancy:
“Healthy forests provide clean air, clean water, carbon storage, wildlife habitat, and recreation. Our forests are in crisis and Californians are at unprecedented risk of wildfire disaster. The Nature Conservancy supports the Wildfire Preparedness and Response Conference Report and the Legislature’s comprehensive approach to restoring our forests and reducing the risk of high-severity wildfire,” said Jay Ziegler, The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Policy & External Affairs. “This legislation recognizes California must do more to reduce fire risk, protect lives and property, and ensure long-term forest health and wildfire resiliency. We support this legislation because it supports ecological forest management and reduces wildfire risk through smart, sustained investments in forest health.”
Patrick McCallum, a Sacramento lobbyist who lost his Santa Rosa home in the October 2017 fires and leads a coalition of wildfire victims and trial attorneys called “Up from the Ashes”:
“Senator Dodd and the conference committee members were handed a very complex and difficult set of wildfire issues and have come up what is best for Californians. With the final compromise, wildfire victims can be confident that their legal rights are protected and that a prevention and accountability plan is in place. I’m comfortable the stress test and review will limit ratepayer recovery bonding to the bare minimum PG&E needs to survive and continue providing services while reimbursing fire victims and continuing to improve the grid to make it safer.”
Rich Gordon, President/CEO, California Forestry Association:
“The California Forestry Association is pleased to support SB 901. The bill creates a critical new exemption that will greatly assist smaller landowners manage their lands and also expands the existing Forest Fire Prevention Pilot Program to allow for the construction of temporary roads for the purposes of treating and thinning overstocked forests. SB 901 is a necessary step toward healthier and more resilient forests.”
Julee Malinowski Ball, Executive Director, California Biomass Energy Alliance:
“As California deals with the changing climate, SB 901 takes a comprehensive approach at addressing wildfire risk. Part of that comprehensive solution is biomass.”
Los Angeles Times Editorial (August 30, 2018):
“Lawmakers will vote on SB 901 on Friday in the final hours of the current two-year legislative session. And it should pass because, as imperfect as it is, we need more clarity and fairness in dealing with the massive firestorms that have become a staple of California’s year-round wildfire season.”
A link to the Conference Committee website is here: http://focus.senate.ca.gov/wildfirecommittee.