Report: California Utilities are the Most Heavily Penalized in the Nation

March 24, 2022

Image of power lines. It is the cover of a report titled: Policing the Grid Safety and Service Enforcement by State Public Utility Commissions

Washington, DC, March 24, 2022—Electric, gas and telecommunications companies in California have paid far more in penalties for consumer protection and safety violations than utilities in any other state, accounting for more than half of the $13 billion in fines and settlements since 2000 in the country as a whole.

This is one of the main conclusions of Policing the Grid: Safety and Service Enforcement by State Public Utility Commissions, a report published today by the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First. The report, authored by freelancer Adam Warner and Good Jobs First Research Director Philip Mattera, summarizes more than 2,000 cases brought by state regulators with penalties of $5,000 or more.

The data, which does not include rate-setting cases, was collected as part of the latest expansion of Violation Tracker, the wide-ranging database of corporate misconduct produced by the Corporate Research Project.

California’s $8 billion total is largely the result of cases brought against Pacific Gas & Electric, which has been hit with $5 billion in penalties, primarily for helping cause devastating wildfires in the state by failing to maintain its power lines properly. Southern California Edison has paid $842 million in wildfire cases as well as for other offenses, such as submitting falsified data to the California Public Utilities Commission.

New York ranks second in penalties, with a total of $896 million. More than half of that figure is linked to Consolidated Edison, which has paid $528 million for offenses such as failing to prepare adequately for severe storms.

Five other states—Missouri, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Arizona and Illinois—have penalty totals in excess of $100 million. Texas has the largest number of cases, at 365, but it has collected only $67 million. Another $2.9 billion in penalties resulted from joint actions brought by groups of state attorneys general.

Other states have done much less in the way of utility safety and consumer protection enforcement. Twenty-nine states have collected less than $10 million in penalties since 2000, including four—Alabama, Alaska, South Carolina and Wyoming—for which no cases with penalties of at least $5,000 could be found.

With the new utility cases, Violation Tracker now contains 512,000 entries from more than 400 federal, state and local agencies with total penalties of $786 billion.

Good Jobs First, based in Washington, DC, is a non-profit, non-partisan resource center promoting accountability in economic development. Its Corporate Research Project provides resources for organizations and individuals concerned about all forms of corporate accountability.