PG&E was sentenced in Butte County Superior Court in Chico on Thursday to pay the maximum penalty of nearly $4 million for its role in the deaths of 84 people in the devastating Camp Fire of 2018.
The utility pleaded guilty Tuesday to 84 counts of the involuntary manslaughter of people who were burned to death and one count of illegally starting a fire that was ignited when a worn suspension hook broke on a high-voltage electrical transmission tower in eastern Butte County.
The penalty -- the most severe allowed by law for a corporation -- was agreed to in a plea bargain between PG&E and Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.
In a hearing live-streamed at the court's website, Judge Michael Deems said the facts of the case showed PG&E engaged in "a callous disregard for the safety and property of the citizens of Butte County."
He said a person convicted of the same crimes would face 90 years in prison, but a fine is the only way to punish a corporation.
The penalty includes $3,486,950 in fines and court costs plus a payment of $500,000 to Ramsey's office for its investigative costs.
Ramsey told the judge that inadequate monitoring and maintenance of PG&E's equipment amounted to "criminally reckless and grossly negligent behavior for the purpose of elevating profits above safety that led to the deaths of these 84 people."
Incoming Interim PG&E Chief Executive Officer Bill Smith told the court, "It can never be said too many times: We accept responsibility for our role in the Camp Fire, and all 23,000 employees are committed to making sure our equipment never again causes a catastrophe like this.
"On behalf of everyone at PG&E, I'm truly sorry for the terrible loss of life and the physical and emotional damage resulting from the fire," Smith said.
In another development, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali on Wednesday tentatively approved the utility's bankruptcy exit plan and said he will issue a final decision confirming the plan on Friday.
PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, suspending its debts, in January 2019, citing billions of dollars of liability for the Camp Fire and 2017 wildfires in the North Bay.
Confirmation of the $58 billion financial reorganization plan will enable PG&E to start obtaining financing and also meet a June 30 deadline for eligibility in wildfire insurance fund created by the State Legislature.
The fund will be paid for half by shareholders and half by customers of PG&E and the state's two other largest investor-owned utilities.