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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

SDG&E Seeks $379 Million From Ratepayers In 2007 Wildfire Costs

Flames from the Witch Creek fire light up the early Friday morning sky in nor...

Photo by Jon Vidar / Associated Press

Above: Flames from the Witch Creek fire light up the early Friday morning sky in northern San Diego County, Oct. 26, 2007.

SDG&E Seeks $379 Million In 2007 Wildfire Costs

GUEST:

Hanan Eisenman, communications manager, SDG&E

Transcript

The public will have an opportunity on Monday to weigh in on SDG&E's request to recover $379 million in costs from the 2007 wildfires. It is the utility's second attempt to pass on hundreds of millions of dollars stemming from the fires to its ratepayers.

The public will have an opportunity on Monday to weigh in on San Diego Gas & Electric's request to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in costs related to the 2007 wildfires. Under the proposal, the average residential customer could be on the hook for approximately $20 a year for six years.

The California Public Utilities Commission will hear public comment at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. At issue: whether SDG&E’s operations and management of its facilities were reasonable at the time of the fires.

It has been nearly ten years since seven devastating wildfires roared through San Diego County. State investigators found that SDG&E power lines started three of the fires — the Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires, which caused two deaths and destroyed 1,300 homes.

In the Rice Fire, investigators found that a tree branch that snapped and fell into a power line was due to poor maintenance. In the Witch Fire, two power lines that knocked together causing sparks were found to be inadequately spaced. In the Guejito Fire, a Cox Communications wire came into contact with a SDG&E line. Cox agreed to pay $2 million to SDG&E's general fund.

SDG&E argues the fires were caused by winds that measured more than 100 miles an hour, not faulty equipment or negligence.

“We don’t believe we’re at fault for any of these fires," said Christopher Lyons, an attorney with SDG&E. “Even though Cal Fire found that the ignitions were linked to our facilities, we believe the fires started because of factors beyond our control.”

“In the Witch fire for instance, two of our power lines came together in the extreme Santa Ana winds, and that’s a very unusual occurrence,” said Lyons. “Those are facilities that have been operating safely since 1960 when they were installed.”

SDG&E initially paid $2.4 billion to settle claims filed by hundreds of people who lost their homes in the fires. The utility recovered some costs from its liability insurance and third party settlements. What’s left is $379 million that the utility is now proposing to pass on to its ratepayers.

Monday's hearing is the utility's second attempt to pass on costs to its ratepayers stemming from the fires.The last time this issue was discussed at a public hearing in San Diego scores of people, including elected officials, spoke out against the proposed rate increase.

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