"California's largest power company intends to file for bankruptcy as it faces tens of billions of dollars in potential liability following massive wildfires that devastated parts of the state over the last two years," reports the Washington Post.
Calling it "a climate change casualty," one Forbes contributor notes that PG&E's stock has now lost 90% of its mid-October value after a giant November wildfire, adding that "Future investors will look back on these three months as a turning point, and wonder why the effects of climate change on the economic underpinnings to our society were not more widely recognized at the time."
Climate scientists may equivocate about the degree to which Global Warming is contributing to these fires until more detailed research is complete, but for an investor who is used to making decisions based on incomplete or ambiguous information, the warning signs are flashing red... there is no doubt in my mind that Global Warming's thumb rests on the scale of PG&E's decision to declare bankruptcy.
And the Wall Street Journal is already describing it as "the first climate-change bankruptcy, probably not the last," noting that it was a prolonged drought that "dried out much of the state and decimated forests, dramatically increasing the risk of fire."
"This is a fairly new development," said Bruce Usher, a professor at Columbia University's business school who teaches a course on climate and finance. "If you are not already considering extreme weather and other climatic events as one of many risk factors affecting business today, you are not doing your job"...
In less than a decade, PG&E, which serves 16 million customers, saw the risk of catastrophic wildfires multiply greatly in its vast service area, which stretches from the Oregon border south to Bakersfield. Weather patterns that had been typical for Southern California -- such as the hot, dry Santa Ana winds that sweep across the region in autumn, stoking fires -- were now appearing hundreds of miles to the north. "The Santa Ana fire condition is now a Northern California fire reality, " said Ken Pimlott, who retired last month as director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. "In a perfect world, we would like to see all [of PG&E's] equipment upgraded, all of the vegetation removed from their lines. But I don't know anybody overnight who is going to catch up." PG&E scrambled to reduce fire risks by shoring up power lines and trimming millions of trees. But the company's equipment kept setting fires -- about 1,550 between mid-2014 through 2017, or more than one a day, according to data it filed with the state.
The global business community is recognizing the risks it faces from climate change. This week, a World Economic Forum survey of global business and thought leaders found extreme weather and other climate-related issues as top risks both by likelihood and impact.
Other factors besides climate change may also have pushed PG&E towards bankruptcy, according to the article. They're required by California state regulations to provide electrical service to the thousands of people moving into the state's forested areas, yet "an unusual California state law, known as 'inverse condemnation,' made PG&E liable if its equipment started a fire, regardless of whether it was negligent."
In declaring bankruptcy, PG&E cited an estimated $30 billion in liabilities -- plus 750 lawsuits from wildfires potentially caused by its power lines.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.