SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ever since PG&E equipment contributed to the destruction of Paradise and killed at least 84 people in the Camp Fire, ABC10 has investigated what happened in an ongoing reporting project, FIRE - POWER - MONEY.
The series has revealed new details of PG&E’s criminal behavior, its influence over California politicians, and the special treatment the company has gotten from California’s state government. Recently, Patti Poppe, who took over as CEO of PG&E in January, revealed she’s been watching ABC10’s investigations of the company.
In fact, she invoked ABC10’s series to explain why she left a “pretty good gig” running her hometown utility in Michigan to lead PG&E, a company convicted of 91 felonies.
“I said no a few times,” Poppe said. “But I’ll tell you also that after watching the Paradise videos, the ABC10 news series, seeing the photos of our customer payment offices and bucket trucks that had been vandalized by angry customers, you know, I just felt compelled to come and help and do my part.” Poppe said in comments to regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday. “That is not how a community or state should feel about their local utility."
According to SEC filings, Poppe received a $6.6 million signing bonus and shares of PG&E stock worth $31 million at the current price. Her annual pay is $12 million, including stock and bonuses.
ABC10 has renewed our request for an interview with Poppe, which was previously declined by PG&E's public relations staff.
Poppe didn’t elaborate on what moved her in ABC10’s reporting, but did share with that she’s watched “all” of it, which makes her remark a noteworthy acknowledgment of some of the darker aspects of PG&E’s crisis.
Some key findings from FIRE - POWER - MONEY:
As a corporation, PG&E was sentenced for 84 felony manslaughter convictions in the Camp Fire and was fined what amounts to less than two hours of PG&E’s revenue: $3.5 million. A human offender could have gone to prison for 90 years.
Two Cal Fire chiefs told us they worry it’ll happen again.
Engineers at PG&E knew months before the Camp Fire that the power grid had problems with old, used-up parts that could break.
State regulators at the CPUC (which PG&E lobbies extensively) refused to cooperate with prosecutors, harming the criminal investigation. They didn’t punish PG&E for safety violations, waiving a $200 million fine on the grounds PG&E was bankrupt.
While bankrupt, PG&E tried to get out of being charged with its Camp Fire crimes by offering money to prosecutors.
PG&E kept making political donations during its bankruptcy, even as it argued it didn’t have enough cash to pay its victims.
PG&E donated $208,000 to Gov. Gavin Newsom election campaign in 2018 after the company was found guilty of six felonies for the deadly San Bruno gas explosion. (When we asked about the ethics of this, Newsom remarked it was “a strange question.”)
Eight out of ten California state and federal lawmakers also accepted donations from PG&E in 2018. The state legislature then bailed PG&E out with a multibillion-dollar wildfire fund, paid for by customers.
PG&E is under a new homicide investigation for a fire that killed four people in 2020. The company admits its contractors may have marked a tree to be removed but never did the work.
The power line in question wasn’t switched off, but PG&E lacked weather readings in the area to make precise decisions.
PG&E knows that it started the 2019 Kincade Fire, another fire that sparked beneath a power line that was not included in shutoffs during windstorms.
PG&E didn’t tell investors it knows it is responsible for the Kincade Fire, even as it admitted it served a search warrant in the criminal investigation.
Since 2010, PG&E disasters have killed (on average) about a dozen people per year.
Poppe went on to say that she plans to “lead with love” at PG&E. The 16 million people in PG&E’s territory are in a loveless marriage, paying some of the highest rates in the nation. They don’t get to choose some other power company.
With California’s wildfires growing deadlier and bigger than ever, the state’s largest power company admitted to the largest corporate homicide in American history. PG&E killed 84 people when its power lines started the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise. Our investigation will take you behind the scenes of the criminal prosecution and look into how PG&E and the California state government are avoiding accountability.