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SDG&E Lobbies Regulators To Reject Judges’ Decision On 2007 Wildfire Reimbursement

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.

Documents show San Diego Gas & Electric privately lobbied California regulators to ignore last month’s decision by two judges, urging the state to refuse its latest request to charge customers for costs related to the 2007 wildfires.

The judges’ preliminary decision recommended that regulators reject SDG&E’s wish to bill ratepayers $379 million in wildfire expenses.

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

Administrative law judges S. Pat Tsen and Sasha Goldberg said the company should not be allowed to collect that sum from customers because it did not “prudently” manage facilities linked to the fire.

But in a presentation to regulators behind closed doors this month, SDG&E said the judges’ decision committed factual and legal errors, in part in its review of wind and weather conditions in October 2007.

“Despite having a safe system, as well as designing, operating and maintaining our system at or above standards, the wildfires that occurred were due to circumstances beyond SDG&E’s control,” wrote the company’s Senior Communications Manager Colleen Windsor in a statement to KPBS.

But a state inquiry found that SDG&E lines ignited the 2007 wildfires because the company did not properly design, build and maintain its equipment. After private talks, SDG&E reached a $14 million settlement with state investigators.

The 2007 fires killed two people, destroyed 1,300 homes and caused as much as $2 billion in damages to San Diego County.

RELATED: SDG&E Cut Spending On Powerlines Before 2007 Wildfires, Say Lawyers For Homeowners

The company has twice before asked state regulators for permission to pass those expenses along to ratepayers. And the California Public Utilities Commission has rejected each request.

Since the judges’ decision last month, SDG&E has met privately with the staff of each state regulator whose job it is to vote on the company’s request.

Commissioners were scheduled to consider the judges’ decision Thursday at a public meeting in Chula Vista. The item, however, was pulled from the agenda.

Consumer lawyer Mia Severson, who has challenged SDG&E's request for wildfire reimbursement costs, said the change suggests the PUC is posturing to continue the disturbing trend of ignoring the judges' decisions and voting for the utilities.

"The administrative law judges, after presiding over the testimony, cross-examination, and evidence, found SDG&E's management and control prior to the ignition of the three 2007 fires unreasonable, and therefore passing onto ratepayers the costs incurred by SDG&E unjust," Severson said. "The proposed decision denying SDG&E money showed this decision would be heard in Chula Vista. Now just days before the commission vote in San Diego County, the hearing is postponed to a location 500 miles away from the voices of those who lost their homes."


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Photo of Amita Sharma

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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