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Occidental Petroleum Corporation
The Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) bankruptcy, which was caused by liabilities resulting from massive wildfires, has widely been called the first climate change bankruptcy. It will likely not be the last, as climate change exacerbates natural disasters, leading to more frequent and intense wildfires, storms, and flooding. Wildfires alone could become up to 900 percent more destructive in certain regions by midcentury, and utility assets will also be increasingly exposed to threats stemming from hurricanes, rising sea levels, and other climate-related events.
These extreme weather events will increase costs to utility-sector stakeholders, including investor-owned utilities, state and local governments, ratepayers, and taxpayers. These risks could place financial stress on utility companies, drive up electricity rates, crowd out essential investment in renewable energy and grid upgrades, and disrupt service.
In this paper, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy reviews and analyzes the PG&E bankruptcy, assesses how capital markets have reacted to the bankruptcy through the lens of valuations in the US utility sector, and discusses policy implications of California’s recent legislative response to wildfire risk. This paper examines market indicators to assess investor expectations of climate risk exposure and likely cost allocation. Neither debt nor equity markets suggest widespread concern about climate risk in the utility sector.
In the absence of strong market signals to encourage climate risk mitigation, the authors find that policy frameworks are needed to ensure that companies make necessary preventative investments and to define how costs will be allocated among stakeholders. This paper also reviews a recently passed California bill aimed at achieving these objectives and the lessons and best practices it offers for other policy makers. In short, the paper finds the following:
If the first climate change bankruptcy is indicative of a new reality, it is not that utilities are going to go bankrupt overnight. Rather, climate disasters will increasingly add financial stress to utility-sector stakeholders, as costs accumulate from both acute events and damaging extreme weather impacts. Adapting the regulatory bargain for a climate-exposed future will require lawmakers, regulators, and shareholders to develop new approaches and new incentive structures to ensure an accountable, robust utility sector. Moreover, while climate change is already presenting real financial challenges to utilities, it will not be the only sector to face large climate-driven costs. Other corporate actors can look to the utility experience to better understand how policy makers, investors, and companies will respond to the growing financial threat from climate change.
On 28 November 2022, Zimbabwe stopped generating electricity at the South Power Station of the...
There is a strong and growing consensus that a simultaneously growing and decarbonizing electricity sector is necessary to meet declining greenhouse gas emissions targets.