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SDG&E Wants Ratepayers To Pay For Costs Of Wildfires, Retroactive To ‘07

Ratepayer advocates are accusing the power company of pulling an end-run.

For more than two years, San Diego Gas & Electric has pushed state regulators to allow them to charge customers for future wildfire expenses that insurance companies won’t cover. Now, the utility has linked that request to billing customers for costs from the 2007 fires that its own lines started.

SDG&E has filed hundreds of pages of documents in its quest to have ratepayers cover costs of future wildfires caused by electrical lines. Now, in one sentence inserted in a filing last month, the company proposes that its damages from the 2007 fires also be paid by customers.

The total will be at least $2 billion -- double its $1 billion insurance limit.

The utility says the idea is not new. SDG&E spokeswoman Stephanie Donavan said the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) itself inserted the language in 2010 about tracking SDG&E expenses from the '07 fires.

But San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre, who is representing ratepayers in the case, said tracking those expenses is different from billing customers. Aguirre blamed the PUC for preventing the massive change from a public vetting.

“Only the dishonesty of the commissioners has allowed the case to go this far behind closed doors," Aguirre said. "What the people of San Diego have to understand is that a half-billion-dollar tax is being imposed on them with no public discussion.”

Meanwhile, attorney Mitch Wagner, who sued SDG&E on behalf of some of the hundreds of people who lost their homes in the 2007 fires, said any decision by commissioners on that request is premature.

“The CPUC ought not to do anything until after there’s a trial in the civil cases when all of the evidence comes out," Wagner said. "If the jury concludes SDG&E was not only negligent but reckless, the PUC would have a very difficult time giving any credence to SDG&E’s application.”

The PUC did not respond to inquiries.

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Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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