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PG&E says power bills could reach $835 a month if ordered to clear trees, inspect electricity system

PG&E warned in a new court filing that it would have to spend at least $75 billion, hire 650,000 workers — and increase monthly utility bills by a huge amount — if it’s forced to comply with a federal judge’s proposed order for a massive maintenance and inspection effort for its electricity grid.

The warnings by the embattled and cash-strapped utility, which has staggered to the brink of insolvency, were contained in a lengthy response ahead of a hearing in U.S. District Court next week.

Federal Judge William Alsup has signaled he may order PG&E to undertake a thorough inspection of its electricity grid and to launch a wide-ranging vegetation management plan ahead of the upcoming 2019 fire season in Northern California. Alsup is supervising the company’s probation connected with PG&E’s conviction for felonies the company committed before and after a fatal gas explosion in 2010 that killed eight and destroyed a San Bruno neighborhood.

“The resources required to comply with the (judge’s proposed order) do not exist,” PG&E stated in a federal court filing. “PG&E does not have the necessary funds. Were PG&E allowed to pass on the costs, the rate increases would be oppressive.”

PG&E estimated the rate increases in one year would be more than five times current rates in typical utility bills for 16 million Californians.

That means monthly utility bills would average $835 a month, according to the estimates PG&E provided in the court filing.

PG&E monthly bills rose on Jan. 1. Combined electricity and natural gas bills rose to an estimated $167.02 a month for the average residential customer, an increase of 0.7 percent. Electricity bills declined to a new level of about $112.08, a 1.5 percent reduction. Gas bills jumped to $54.94, a 5.1 percent increase.