Customers Won’t Pay SDG&E Wildfire Losses — For Now
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Aired 12/21/12 on KPBS News.
State regulators left the door open for the utility to try yet again to recoup those expenses from ratepayers.
Customers won't pay for San Diego Gas & Electric's uninsured costs from the 2007 wildfires…at least for now.
California Public Utility Commissioner Timothy Simon withdrew a last-minute opinion today that urged his colleagues to allow SDG&E to bill ratepayers for the '07 costs. Those costs could reach $1 billion -- or around $365 per customer -- overall.
Simon's withdrawal followed a deluge of objections from ratepayer advocates. They argued in phone calls and filings that Simon's 11th hour reversal allowing the utility to charge customers for the fire losses violated the state's Bagley-Keene Act. It requires that writings of public officials be open to public scrutiny. Simon denied anything improper had taken place.
"Bagley-Keene can make things rough on us," Simon said. "I'm just saying. This interpretation that my colleagues and I are under…I'm not convinced is properly serving due process."
But in the end, Simon withdrew his controversial opinion favoring the utility. Instead, commissioners unanimously backed a plan that allows SDG&E to return again to argue that customers cover the utility's losses.
Commissioner Mike Florio, however, said the action amounted to kicking the can down the road.
"My retroactive rate-making concerns with respect to the 2007 costs remain," Florio said. But then he curiously added: "But we can take that up another day, so I'll support it as well."
SDG&E officials say they are drafting a response to the commissioners' vote.
Meanwhile, ratepayer advocates hailed the vote as a victory. They believe their voices counted and even if SDG&E returns for reimbursement, today's action means the company will now be subject to a reasonable review.
In a statement, San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob praised the state’s rejection of SDG&E’s plan to bill customers.
“This is a huge win for San Diego County residents -- and for common sense,” she said. “SDG&E’s proposal to charge ratepayers for fires the utility largely helped cause would have been a grave injustice to ratepayers and victims of the 2007 firestorms.”