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Mediation Over SDG&E’s Power Shut-Off Plan Moves Slowly

Audio

Aired 12/18/09

San Diego Gas and Electric held its second mediation session today with groups who don’t want the utility to shut off power in the backcountry to prevent wildfires.

— San Diego Gas and Electric held its second mediation session today with groups who don’t want the utility to shut off power in the backcountry to prevent wildfires.

The California Public Utilities Commission ordered SDG & E to pay for the mediation after widespread opposition emerged to the power company’s plan. The utility has paid hundreds of millions in damages and wants to avoid future fire liabilities.

More than 25 representatives of water agencies, utilities, fire fighters, and others spent the session with an independent mediator, clarifying the process and definitions of terms.

Eight participants joined the meeting by phone.

Supervisor Diane Jacob, who strongly opposed SDG & E’s shut off plan, said she hopes the mediation concludes before the next high risk fire season begins.

“It’s a very slow process for a lot of very busy people,” Jacob said. “So I’m a little bit frustrated because we’ve now spent eight hours and our results are minimal.”

Jacob would prefer it if the PUC took firmer oversight in regulating the power company.

She said she’d like to see more pressure put on SDG & E to make practical changes, such as changing power poles or undergrounding lines.

J.C.Thomas of SDG & E said the company has already replaced many wood poles with steel poles, undergrounded some lines and may do more.

“We have told the group we don’t want this process to be about shutting off power,” he said.

Thomas said the utility has set aside about four months in which the group can explore options and come up with solutions. He said some measures might be in place before the fall of 2010, some might take longer.

The group, which will have a web site to exchange ideas, considered the possibility of opening the site to the public and allowing public comment. That idea appeared to be popular until an SDG & E representative expressed concern that this might be counterproductive.

The group then dropped the suggestion and decided to make it an internal website, at least for the time being.

The task of setting dates for future meetings proved daunting, due to the participants’ scheduling conflicts. However, the goal is to have about three meetings every two months, at least through March.

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