October 26, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

At Last, One Utilities Commission-Wing Making Sense

By Tom Elias

At long last, one wing of the state’s Public Utilities Commission is making sense on a major dispute commissioners will decide between a big utility and its millions of customers.

At issue is who will pay the enormous costs of the 2007 Witch, Guejito and Rice fires that killed at least 10 persons and destroyed more than 1,125 homes in a wide swath of the San Diego area. The fires began with power lines owned by San Diego Gas & Electric Co. that arced dramatically when dry winds reached 100 mph and more in October of that year. But the company’s latest rate increase application asks the PUC to dun customers – including residents who have since rebuilt their charred homes – for 90 percent of its approximately $380 million in fire-related expenses.

In some ways, this rate increase request from a company whose board of directors includes the sister of Gov. Jerry Brown is even more egregious than the PUC’s ruling in 2014 to force customers of both SDG&E and Southern California Edison Co. to absorb about 70 percent of the $4.7 billion cost of decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County. The plant closure was largely the result of an Edison blunder, part of the reason that ruling is now being reconsidered.

The Witch Fire began as a small blaze caused by power lines near Ramona, then grew exponentially within 24 hours to reach the San Diego city limits. It soon combined with smaller fires to eventually incinerate whole neighborhoods and cul de sacs.

This was not open rural country, but high-priced suburban real estate. Evacuations were ordered during a three-week period in cities like Oceanside and Encinitas, Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe and Rancho Bernardo and more. More than 197,000 acres burned and more than 500,000 persons had to leave their homes at least for a while.

In the rate increase application, there is no talk about the company compensating affected customers for their own fire-related costs, as most might think fair. Damage claims afterward came to more than $4 billion, much of it not covered by insurance.

Now the PUC’s own Office of Ratepayer Advocates, largely passive during the San Onofre dispute and the controversy over token punishment of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for its negligence (the term used by federal prosecutors) in the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight persons, has for once taken a forceful stand on a significant issue.

Testimony filed in late fall saw the OPA roundly condemn SDG&E, whose actions it called “not those of a prudent manager.” The office argued that the utility did not comply with state rules on vegetation management, which is as crucial around power lines as it is for homes in fire-prone areas. The company should not be rewarded for ignoring regulations, the OPR argued.

SDG&E, of course, claims it is entitled to reimbursement for its fire-related expenses, which would cost the average customer $1.67 per month for several years.

“The alleged involvement of SDG&E facilities in the ignitions of the three fires does not show (the firm) acted unreasonably or imprudently,” company lawyers said.

The case creates a major test for the scandal-plagued PUC, whose current president, Michael Picker, keeps promising more transparency and adherence to rules prohibiting private contacts between commissioners, their staff and utility regulators during rate cases. Despite the rules, such contacts have long been common.

 If SDG&E ends up paying only about 10 percent of its expenses from a hugely traumatic fire caused in large part by its equipment and its inaction, the PUC will be saying there’s been no change despite many scandals.

Only if the company’s proposal is cut by much more than half will there be any reason to believe this commission has turned a page and become more friendly to the consumers it is supposed to serve.

in News
Related Posts

Santa Monica School Board Approves Purchases $21 Million Building

October 25, 2020

October 25, 2020

Santa Monica Malibu School Board votes 6-1 to purchase office building at 1717 4th Street By Toi Creel The Santa...

City Council Endorsements: Santa Monica Needs a Change

October 22, 2020

October 22, 2020

Santa Monica City Council endorsements from the Santa Monica Mirror The following are two endorsement articles from Santa Monica Mirror...

Crime in Santa Monica Is Declining: Santa Monica Beat – October, 22, 2020

October 22, 2020

October 22, 2020

Local news and culture in under 5 minutes. * Crime in Santa Monica Is Declining * 335 Homeless Residents Housed...

Forma Expanding to Main Street: Westside Food Scene

October 22, 2020

October 22, 2020

Westside Food Scene October 22, 2020 By Kerry Slater Forma Expanding to Main Street Popular Santa Monica Italian restaurant Forma...

California Supreme Court to Hear Santa Monica Voting Rights Case

October 22, 2020

October 22, 2020

Court to rule on future of at-large elections in Santa Monica By Sam Catanzaro The California Supreme Court will determine...

LA County Says Younger Adults and Teenagers Are Driving COVID-19 Cases

October 20, 2020

October 20, 2020

68 percent of new cases among people between ages of 12 and 50 By Sam Catanzaro Los Angeles County health...

Santa Monica Has Issued Over 40 Face Covering Citations

October 20, 2020

October 20, 2020

City expanding COVID-19 compliance efforts with the addition of “Health Ambassadors”  By Sam Catanzaro The City of Santa Monica says...

Grand Jury Indicts Former Angel Employee in Tyler Skaggs’ Fatal Overdose

October 19, 2020

October 19, 2020

Fort Wayne grand jury indicts Eric Prescott Kay on drug distribution and drug conspiracy charges By Sam Catanzaro A federal...

YogaWorks Studios Closing Amid Pandemic: Santa Monica Beat – October, 19, 2020

October 19, 2020

October 19, 2020

Local news and culture in under 5 minutes. * YogaWorks Studios Closing Amid Pandemic * Carjacking Suspects in Custody All...

Edify TV: More Bike Lanes for Westside

October 19, 2020

October 19, 2020

A Westside city is adding more miles of protected bike lanes. Learn more in this video made possible by Santa...

Outgoing Santa Monica Police Chief Set to Receive Nearly $100K of Severance Pay

October 19, 2020

October 19, 2020

Santa Monica City Council approves retirement agreement for outgoing chief Cynthia Renaud By Sam Catanzaro Santa Monica’s outgoing police chief...

Intravenous Vitamin Therapy: A Natural, Effective Solution for the Flu

October 19, 2020

October 19, 2020

By Dr. Mahboubeh Hashemi, ND and Dr. Matthew Cavaiola, ND  As fall and winter are fast approaching, many people, and...

Edify TV: Deal to House Homeless People Near Freeways

October 18, 2020

October 18, 2020

After months of negotiations, the City and County of LA reached a $300 million deal to house thousands of homeless...