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OpEd: Solvent utilities are critical for continued partnerships with the communities they serve

Wildfires and the aftermaths are one of the most talked about issues in the state because of the potential devastating financial impact on California Utilities. State legislators are pondering solutions. California’s investor owned companies are also searching for solutions that will address the current problems in the law without harming their business structure and their commitments to the communities they serve.

Utility company equipment failure has been blamed for the fires that ravaged Napa and Sonoma counties last fall. News reports stated more than 50 lawsuits have been filed over the Napa and Sonoma fires. The cost of the damage is estimated at $10 billion.

However according to their report, “Cal Fire has determined the fire started in two locations and was caused by tree or parts of trees falling onto PG&E power lines.”

California has been hit with a new round of wildfires this summer. Some quickly blamed utilities. However, climatologists say that global warming has caused dryer summer, which increases the chances of wildfires.

Utilities are willing to pay their fair share if they are responsible. They argued that they should only be responsible for the damage caused by their equipment not natural causes.

If lawmakers don’t find a solution, it has the potential to open the floodgate for unfair lawsuits against utilities, especially considering that hundreds of people were affected by the recent wildfires in Northern California.

If California utilities are hit with billions of dollars in lawsuits, there could be a trickle-down effect. Utility companies are good corporate citizens and invest in community programs, community based organizations and projects that better the communities they serve. If the health and vitality of the California utilities companies are at risk their support to communities throughout the state through millions of charitable dollars could also be at risk.

Simeon Gant, founder and executive director of Green Tech Education, a nonprofit based in Sacramento, Barry Moline Executive Director of the California Municipal Association Earl “Skip” Cooper, president/CEO of the Black business Association, the oldest minority business association in California all cite the important support that communities and receive from Utilities in California. They strongly encourage legislators who are looking at solutions to consider the possible unintended consequences on the charitable giving of these companies.

According to the California Public Utilities Commission’s 2016 Supplier Diversity Annual Report. Utilities spent more than $9 billion with women, minority and LGBT-owned companies. This represents 30 percent of their spending.

California Utilities’ Supplier Diversity Programs are among the strongest in the nation.

As the State Legislative nears its August 31st legislative deadline, it is important for legislators to remember the thousands of jobs created in California communities by investor owned utilities and the household that depend on those jobs for their quality of life.

The investor own utility companies are critical to California’s numerous clean energy initiatives including renewable energy, electric vehicles, grid modernization to benefit distributed energy resource and investments related to the storage market amongst many others.

Much is at stake not only for California’s investor owned utility companies and the communities they serve, but also for the state’s energy future. This sort of partnership can only continue if the investor owned utilities remain healthy and stable.

Gwen Moore, served in the California State Assembly from 1979 through 1994 and served as Majority Whip and served 12 years as Chair of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee which had jurisdiction over the California cable television industry, emerging business enterprises, international trade and tourism, California ports, trucking issues, rail and rail safety and all investor-owned utilities including water, telecommunications, and energy.

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