Customers May Never Know How They Got Stuck with $3.3 Billion Bill For San Onofre Shutdown

Thursday, April 27, 2017
By Amita Sharma
Credit: Associated Press
Above: Power lines make their way over a freeway towards the San Onofre nuclear power plant, June 7, 2013.

Without a word of discussion, state regulators scuttled customers' chances Thursday to learn why they got stuck with a multibillion-dollar bill for the shutdown of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The California Public Utilities Commission once again denied the release of scores of emails it exchanged with Governor Jerry Brown’s office over the plant’s closure.

Commissioners did not weigh in on the matter at Thursday's public meeting.

But their lawyers argued in a staff report that the records should not be made public even though the motive behind keeping them secret has been questioned.

“The public’s interest in disclosure of this information is outweighed by the public’s interest in allowing such decisions to be made uninhibited by public scrutiny,” commission attorneys wrote.

San Diego consumer lawyer Mike Aguirre sued the commission last year after it refused to release the communications.

“The public documents sought under the California Public Records Act and the California Constitution pertain to a matter of public interest,” Aguirre wrote in a filing with the commission. “The CPUC is forcing millions of people and families, schools, businesses and local governments to pay more than $3.3 billion over a decade for the San Onofre nuclear power plant, even though it generates no electricity.”

The $4.7-billion-dollar San Onofre settlement requires customers to pay 70 percent of the costs for the plant’s premature shutdown following a 2012 radioactive leak. That bill was handed to customers even though there was never an investigation into who was at fault for the equipment leak. And that bill was the product of a secret meeting between a state regulator and an executive from Southern California Edison in Poland.

It is believed dozens of emails between Gov. Brown’s office and state regulators would shed light on how that deal came about. But the commission has refused to release them. A court had ordered them to reconsider.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, expressed frustration Thursday in anticipation that the commission would refuse to release the records.

“What we need to see are the facts that were used to make the decision of that allocation for the closure and then the public will either accept it or be able to argue against it,” Hill said. "The PUC's public records act process is completely broken."

Consumer lawyer Mia Severson, who along with law partner Aguirre sued to get the documents made public, said the matter now returns to a state appeals court.

"It's a redo," Severson said. "It feels like a hamster wheel. It's outrageous. You can't write this stuff."