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SDG&E in Settlement Talks with PUC Over 2007 Fires

Audio

Aired 9/10/09

The expected decision today by regulators on whether to approve SDG&E's shut-off plan for the backcountry during high fire danger deals with the future. But both sides are in talks on the role SDG&E's power lines played in fires of the past.

— The expected decision today by regulators on whether to approve SDG&E's shut-off plan for the backcountry during high fire danger deals with the future. But both sides are in talks on the role SDG&E's power lines played in fires of the past.

The PUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division has concluded that SDG&E violated state rules by failing to maintain power lines that ignited the Rice and Witch fires in October 2007. The division also alleges that SDG&E didn't provide immediate access to witnesses and evidence. The consumer protection division is in settlement talks with the utility. Former California Public Utilities Commissioner Loretta Lynch says the fact that these talks are taking place indicates commissioners are pressuring the division to go easy on SDG&E

"It's not just that they made a mistake here. They were negligent," says Lynch. "They didn't fulfill their end of the regulatory bargain and so much more than a slap on the wrist should happen here. The fine should be significant. It should be immediate and it should be imposed."

Diane Conklin is with the Mussey Grade Road Alliance -- a group in Ramona opposed to the power shut-off idea. She says if the PUC doesn't impose sanctions on SDG&E over the 2007 fires and then approves the shut-off plan, the public would have no recourse.

"SDG&E wants to control not only the shutting off of the electricity, but they also want to control what people's reaction would be to that and gain complete immunity from any redress that people might take," she says.

SDG&E would not make a representative available for comment but issued this statement: "SDG&E and the CPUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division continue to work together to finalize details of the settlement."

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