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Proposal in CA Legislature would add surcharge to utility bills to pay for wildfire damage

Critics say it unfaily bails out utility companies
Wildfires ravage Northern California
Posted at 7:16 AM, Jul 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-08 10:16:03-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The California Senate will vote this week on a bill to add a surcharge to utility bills, with the money going to pay for damages caused by wildfires.

Governor Gavin Newsom says he wants the bill on his desk to sign by Friday before the legislature takes its summer break.

According to the text of Assembly Bill 1054, each utility company would have to "collect a nonbypassable charge from its ratepayers to support the Wildfire Fund." That money would go to pay for damages from wildfires caused by utility companies.

But the fund can only be used if the utility companies comply with state safety laws and regulations.

The bill also requires each electric company to file a wildfire mitigation plan with the state every three years, and update it yearly.

Critics say it's nothing more than a tax, passing the responsibility of wildfire damage away from the utility companies and onto rate-payers.

"This is going to be a tax that will go on, who knows how long," says Richard Rider from the San Diego Tax Fighters. "Long after the utilities have buried their wires, long after the risk has dropped dramatically, the ratepayers will still be paying it."

Rider says this bill would unfairly make people in low-risk areas pay into a fund that would only benefit people in high-risk areas.
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An SDG&E spokesperson says the company does not have an official position on AB 1054 but sent a statement to 10News saying:

"We believe this bill is a good starting point for legislation to be enacted by July 12 to help address some of the legal, regulatory and policy challenges facing California, as the state grapples with the wide-ranging impact of catastrophic wildfires. We look forward to reaching a final agreement with the Governor and Legislature that meaningfully addresses the crisis posed by wildfires. Their sense of urgency in dealing with the situation is commendable."

The bill will be in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday. It has already passed through the Assembly.