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State To Rule On SDG&E Request To Charge Ratepayers For $379M Wildfire Cost

A sign on SDG&E's headquarters appears in this undated photo.
Nicholas McVicker
A sign on SDG&E's headquarters appears in this undated photo.
State To Rule On SDG&E Request To Charge Ratepayers For $379M Wildfire Cost
State To Rule On SDG&E Request To Charge Ratepayers For $379M Wildfire Cost GUEST: Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh this is a special live broadcast from the Rancho Bernardo historical Society at the winery to mark 10 years since the 2007 wildfires swept through San Diego county. 10 years -- people lost their lives in about 1700 homes were destroyed and half 1 million San Diegans were told to evacuate in advance of the oncoming flames. After the fires we asked how did they start. State regulators found that the power lines were responsible for three of the major fires. State investigators said the power lines were not properly maintained. SDG&E has never admitted any wrongdoing even though they paid a settlement to the state. 10 years later the issue of whether the customer should pick up the tab for the remaining cost of the fire is still unsettled. Joining me is Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter, The San Diego Union-TribuneYou would think after 10 years all of the cost of the fire would've been paid and everything was settled. What issues are undecided?379 million reasons why. That is the remainder of what cost SDG&E has not recovered. The question is can SDG&E get that $379 million from ratepayers?What is their argument?They say there's -- #this can be spread out. What is really very interesting is that they've made this argument to the public utility commission. This has been going on for a number of years. Back in August, a pair of administrative law judges from the utility commission came back and rejected their proposal to get 307 $9 million from players. They said that the utility was at fault and that they acted irresponsibly and imprudently. A law judge recommendation is just that. It is a recommendation.I would imagine that this request that customers pay has outraged activists on the other side. What do they have to say questionThey say that is completely unfair. If there has been conclusions and CalFire came back and said that SDG&E was at fault , they say then $379 million should come from SDG&E shareholders. So they been very upset about this and another little wrinkle to this is that they originally was scheduled to vote on this on the request about a month ago. They put it on a hold for another two weeks and came back two weeks later and said put it on another hold so it's been postponed twice. So number of activists are concerned. They think that it's going to come back and go against what the law judge recommendation was. That is just speculation.SDG&E has warned that if it does not prevail , it's going to have to change the way they prepare for wildfire. Tell us about that.A SDG&E executive was at a meeting in Chula Vista and he said if this commission puts out this decision is written, will have to reevaluate whether we lower the standard for shorting off the power in the back countries and consider whether we remove trees instead of trimming them and consider purchasing insurance that is not economical. SDG&E is in a tough position. There has been some indication that the utilities have a point. Wildfires have become more dangerous whether it is through climate change or more more people moving into wilderness areas. There is no doubt that there have been more fires and there have been more severe. The question it becomes is can a utility be able to get insurance in the future and if they aren't, are they going out to pass it on to ratepayers and that makes the rates go up? Or are they going to have to maybe not offer power or reduce the amount of power in some areas that might be risky question markWe are seeing we might get an answer on this next week?Next Thursday they are scheduled to have a vote on this . We will find out early in the week whether they do that.I been speaking with Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune . Thank you so much.Thank you.

The California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to decide Thursday whether SDG&E can charge ratepayers $379 million to recover costs from the 2007 wildfires.

The utility paid more than $2 billion in settlements stemming from the fires, which state regulators determined were caused in part by SDG&E power lines. SDG&E has contested those findings.

Insurers paid out more than $1 billion, but SDG&E was left with $379 million in unrecovered costs. In August, two administrative law judges recommended the commission reject the request, finding SDG&E's management and control of its equipment was "unreasonable."


The commission was supposed to make its decision last month, but delayed the hearing a second time in order to gather more public comment.

The San Diego Union-Tribune energy reporter Rob Nikolewski joins KPBS Midday Edition on Friday with more on SDG&E's bid and how the utility could react if it is denied.

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