Consumer Advocates Question State Regulator's Role In San Onofre Settlement

Wednesday, March 4, 2015
By Amita Sharma

Consumer advocates said recently released emails raise questions about a state regulator’s involvement in a settlement agreement reached after the San Onofre nuclear plant was shut down.

Mike Florio is the second state public utilities commissioner — after former president Michael Peevey — to be implicated in email exchanges with Southern California Edison, prior to the $4.7 billion settlement on the now shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Private contact between CPUC commissioners and executives at Pacific Gas & Electric and Edison are part of a state criminal investigation.

Last May, Commissioner Mike Florio told an administrative law judge he had "no part in formulating" the 2014 settlement. But the law firm of Aguirre & Severson obtained emails from 2012 that they say belie Florio’s statement. In one email to an executive at San Onofre majority owner Edison, Florio writes about the root cause of the tube leak at San Onofre. Florio then refers to his “regular Wednesday call” with the executive.

Consumer advocate Charles Langley said Florio’s contention that he did not participate in San Onofre settlement talks doesn’t ring true.

“It really strains credulity to suggest that he was at regular weekly discussions and there were no discussions of these premature settlements put forward," Langley said.

Commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said in a written statement the commission’s official inquiry into the San Onofre outage opened months later, by which time the calls between Florio and the Edison executive had ceased.

"The calls with Edison dealt with the immediate aftermath of the San Onofre outage and concerns about summer reliability if the plant couldn’t come back online," Prosper wrote. "There were no ex parte discussions, nor were there discussions about rate-making issues."

Edison spokeswoman Maureen Brown added in a written statement that at the time, the commission asked for regular updates on the status of restart, so that possible threats to reliability in the summer of 2012 could be evaluated and mitigated.

"The rules permitted these communications, since the commission had not initiated its formal proceeding to investigate the outages," Brown said.

Florio voted in favor of the $4.7 billion settlement that requires customers to pay for the bulk of the costs tied to the San Onofre shutdown. Under the procedures agreed by the Public Utilities Commission, once the settlement was signed, further investigation of who was to blame for the problems at San Onofre ceased.