PG&E bankruptcy
Image credit: US DoD -photo by Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, U.S. Air Force

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will plead guilty to a total of 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter resulting from the 2018 wildfires that swept across Northern California.

The utility, which was driven to bankruptcy following the wildfires and subsequent legal issues it faced, is already serving a five-year criminal probation noted the Associated Press. The five-year probation resulted from PG&E being convicted of six felony counts for falsifying records and numerous safety violations related to a 2010 natural gas explosion which cost eight lives.

The utility announced it had reached a plea agreement with the Butte County District Attorney’s office, saving PG&E executives from prison sentences, but with a $4 million fine imposed.

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“We cannot replace all that the fire destroyed, but our hope is that this plea agreement, along with our rebuilding efforts, will help the community move forward from this tragic incident,” PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said in a statement that he hopes the plea agreement will bring “a bit of a sense of justice done” for the fire.

PG&E is set to enter its plea at a court hearing scheduled for April 24, where it will also likely face sentencing.

Shares reportedly rose following the news.

November 2018’s Camp Fire followed a series of 2017 blazes in Northern California that resulted in 44 deaths, and though state investigators didn’t find the utility at fault, the company is accepting responsibility for them in its bankruptcy case as part of a $13.5 billion settlement.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in 2019 to help shield the utility from more than $50 billion in claimed losses, but the utility has settled more than half of those claims to the tune of  $25.5 billion.

According to Johnson, the plea agreement indicates that PG&E is “working to create a better future for all concerned. We want wildfire victims, our customers, our regulators and leaders to know that the lessons we learned from the Camp Fire remain a driving force for us to transform this company.”

California governor Gavin Newsom had been threatening to block PG&E’s plan to get out of bankruptcy in 2020, after stating fears that PG&E is taking on too much debt to be able to afford an estimated $40 billion in equipment upgrades needed to reduce the chances of its electricity grid igniting destructive wildfires in the future, but Newsom has subsequently approved the plan, set for finalisation before 30 June 2020.

The  California Public Utilities Commission however, still needs to give its approval.

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