News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

PacifiCorp eyes rate increase after wildfire judgments

PacifiCorp appears ready to pass along the costs of legal judgments to ratepayers as the company faces the potential for billions of dollars in damages for the 2020 wildfires.

On June 15, PacifiCorp filed paperwork with the Oregon Public Utility Commission requesting permission to delay adding the judgments to its books until June of 2024.

This would not delay payments to plaintiffs, if any, but would allow the company more time before it was required to include the losses in its finances.

By deferring the recording of judgments, the company could wait until all pending cases and appeals are resolved and the total amount of damages known before considering a rate increase. Otherwise, according to the application, the company may have to consider more frequent rate changes as multiple cases resolve separately.

In an official statement June 20, PacifiCorp clarified that the June 15 filing was not a request to raise rates. They said deferment was “a backstop to preserve our ability to take action in the event there is impact to the financial stability of the company.”

A Multnomah County jury found the company liable June 12 for negligently causing the Santiam, Obenchain, 242 and Echo Mountain Complex fires on Labor Day 2020. They awarded $90 million to 17 named plaintiffs out of a class of 5,000 fire survivors.

A series of group trials is forthcoming to determine individual damages for remaining plaintiffs, which could exceed $25 billion if subsequent rulings are similar to the first. There are also similar lawsuits outside the class action pending against PacifiCorp related to utility-caused wildfires.

PacifiCorp has maintained it took appropriate action when it refused to de-energize its system and actively attempted to restore power to damaged equipment during the fires. In its June 15 filing, it again asserted its actions were “appropriate” and it plans to appeal the verdict. As of press time, no appeal has been filed.

Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to accurately reflect damages awarded by the jury.

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