PG&E’s Filing Of Misery

It might be tough to find any company that offered a gloomier set of disclosures than the list of fires, explosions, and legal problems found in PG&E’s latest annual report.

None of this seems to be bothering investors. The stock closed on Wednesday at $64.76, which appears to be an all-time high. Still, consider these disclosures in the 10-K the company filed on Feb. 16.

First up: The company noted that it was sentenced back on January 26 to five years of corporate probation for its role in the 2010 explosion of a natural gas pipeline that exploded and killed eight people in San Bruno, Calif. The sentence includes a five year oversight period by a third party and a $3 million fine.

Next, the company explained that it was still facing an inquiry from federal regulators as to whether it should be “suspended or debarred from entering into federal procurement and non-procurement contracts and programs” because of the San Bruno explosion. For now, it can continue to pursue them. But if regulators “determine that the Utility’s program is not generally effective in preventing and detecting criminal conduct, the Utility may be required to enter into an amended administrative agreement and implement remedial and other measures.” And that could mean no more federal procurement deals. Which would be bad.

Even as it tries to put San Bruno behind it, the company is facing mounting legal and regulatory fallout from “the so-called Butte Wildfire” in 2015 that killed two people. Last year, investigators determined the wildfire was caused when a pine tree touched one of the utility’s power lines and set the tree on fire. A Cal Fire report, blamed PG&E and its contractors for failing to identify the tree as possible hazard.

In the annual report, PG&E said that it now faces lawsuits filed by “1,950 individual plaintiffs representing approximately 950 households and their insurance companies.” The company estimates it could suffer a $750 million hit eventually, but it’s still too soon to say.

Meanwhile, PG&E has a brand-new issue: On January 12, 2017 in Yuba City, California, it appears an  explosion destroyed a nearby house, leaving the homeowner with first and second-degree burns and a second person with minor injuries. PG&E disclosed that investigators were looking into the possibility that a nearby gas line leak on a pipeline that PG&E has been in the process of replacing may have been the origin or cause of the explosion.

Running a utility, even in the best of times, is a dangerous and complex mission fraught with natural risks. Even so, whether through bad luck, mismanagement, or negligence, it’s not to feel that PG&E is a bit cursed these days.