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PG&E hasn’t run out of money. So why is it planning to file for bankruptcy?
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01/25/2019 11:11 AM
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California’s largest power company plans to file for bankruptcy as soon as next week, in the face of wildfire liabilities that could cost tens of billions of dollars.
But a growing chorus of shareholders, ratepayer advocates and lawyers for fire victims says there’s no need for Pacific Gas & Electric to enter bankruptcy.
Those critics point to the $1.5 billion in cash or cash equivalents PG&E says it has on hand, and to the company’s claim that it could raise “a significant amount” of additional capital even without a Chapter 11 filing. Critics also say wildfire liability is far from the urgent crisis PG&E is making it out to be because it could be years before the company is forced to pay a single penny to fire victims.
The groups questioning PG&E’s decision are strange bedfellows, although many of them have a financial interest in keeping the utility out of Bankruptcy Court.
One leading critic of a bankruptcy filing is BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, which owns more than 11 million shares of PG&E stock that could be wiped out. Then there are lawyers for victims of the Northern California fires, who might see court awards reduced by a bankruptcy judge. Some of those lawyers have joined forces with famed consumer advocate and PG&E foe Erin Brockovich.
Ratepayer watchdogs groups also suspect PG&E is seeking bankruptcy protection not out of necessity but as a business strategy.
Loretta Lynch feels like she’s seen this movie before. Lynch was president of the California Public Utilities Commission the last time PG&E filed for bankruptcy, during the energy crisis in 2001. At the time, the San Francisco-based utility said it needed relief from $9 billion in debt, incurred after a failed deregulation plan allowed Enron Corp. and other energy traders to manipulate markets and send prices skyrocketing.
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