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State Regulators To Decide This Week Whether To Reimburse SDG&E For ‘07 Fire Costs

Aired 11/26/12 on KPBS News.

The expected vote by the five-member California Public Utilities Commission comes one month after an administrative law rejected reimbursement for the utility.

The longstanding question of who will foot the huge bill for the uninsured wildfire costs from 2007, customers or San Diego Gas & Electric’s shareholders, is expected to be settled this week.

The Witch Fire, which started outside of Ramona in 2007, burned hundreds of structures and forced thousands of evacuations.
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Above: The Witch Fire, which started outside of Ramona in 2007, burned hundreds of structures and forced thousands of evacuations.

The 2007 wildfires killed two people and destroyed 1,300 homes. State investigators found that the SDG&E violated safety rules by failing to properly design, construct and maintain its power lines and that’s what caused the fires.

The company ultimately paid a $14 million settlement over the fires. But the fires caused as much as $2 billion in damages in San Diego County. SDG&E has also settled with hundreds of people who lost their homes in the fires and has exceeded its $1 billion liability insurance limit. It’s the bill for the remaining, uninsured, damages that could total hundreds of millions more that SDG&E wants customers -- not shareholders -- to shoulder.

Consumer groups said the total increase could cost anywhere from $350 to $700 per meter. In April, hundreds of angry customers told state regulators they would be letting them down and flouting the concept of accountability if they allowed SDG&E to bill ratepayers for their uninsured wildfire costs instead of shareholders.

Last month, an administrative law judge rebuffed SDG&E’s request. It’s now up to regulators to determine who will pay.

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