Utility SoCal Edison Agrees to Settlement in 2017, 2018 Fires

California’s second-largest utility company has agreed to pay $360 million to compensate about two dozen local governmental entities for damages and other costs related to a series of fires and resulting mudslides that hit the region in 2017 and 2018.

Source: WSJ | Published on November 14, 2019

Evening power station

The settlements announced Wednesday show that Southern California Edison, an arm of Edison International, faces liability problems similar to those of PG&E Corp. The bankrupt Northern California power company last June agreed to a $1 billion settlement with communities and other local agencies for damages from fires in 2017 and 2018, including the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise.

Edison recently conceded its equipment was the likely spark of the 96,949-acre Woolsey Fire in and around Malibu last year, and Ventura County fire investigators have determined Edison power lines sparked the 281,893-acre Thomas Fire in 2017.

Edison officials said Wednesday’s agreements were a compromise reached between the utility and the local agencies to resolve their claims, and that it made no admissions of wrongdoing or liability.

The settlements don’t apply to claims filed against the utility by homeowners and businesses that are pending in various courts. PG&E still faces billions in potential liability from private claims over its fires.

The settlements came after a mediation process presided over by a retired federal judge, and were less than what the local agencies had originally wanted but more than what Edison initially offered.

Attorneys at Baron & Budd, which represented the public agencies, said $210 million from the settlements would go to 15 local agencies, including Los Angeles County and the city of Malibu, that were involved in fighting the Woolsey Fire.

The remaining $150 million will go to 11 local agencies, including Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, that fought the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides in the area.

The public agencies are being compensated for costs including staff overtime and damage to buildings, parks and infrastructure, said attorney John Fiske, who leads Baron & Budd’s wildfire practice. He said the communities, in turn, would use some of the proceeds to repay state and federal disaster-assistance payments.