December 2, 2021 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

High Time For PUC to Fix its San Onofre “Settlement”

By Tom Elias

Thomas B. Elias, Columnist

The California Public Utilities Commission now says it wants closure on its most contentious, most questionable decision of the last few decades.

This comes more than four years after a clandestine meeting between the commission’s then-president Michael Peevey and officials of the Southern California Edison Co. set parameters for “settling” the division of costs for shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, on the coast near the Orange-San Diego county line.

The so-called settlement among the PUC, Edison, San Onofre part-owner San Diego Gas & Electric and a so-called consumer group called The Utility Reform Network (TURN) saddled electricity customers with about 70 per cent of the expense of the 2012 shutdown, caused by an Edison blunder. That came to $3.3 billion out of the $4.7 billion total cost.

Edison tried to recoup some costs of the shutdown by suing the maker of the failed steam generator that caused the problem, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for hundreds of millions. But the utility won only a fraction of what it sought. So a promise in the San Onofre settlement giving half the lawsuit proceeds to consumers became essentially meaningless.

Even before that court decision, the commission in May 2016 conceded there may have been something fishy about the decision spurred by that secret meeting, which violated even the PUC’s own loose rules.

It’s taken since then for the commission to schedule a new set of public hearings – the first ever in the case – at which consumers and others can speak out about the possibly illegal settlement, which came before any hearings on the issue could be held.

“This matter is long overdue for resolution,” wrote current PUC President Michael Picker and PUC Judge Darcie Houck in the order setting up the hearings.

You don’t say, Mr. Picker. Picker, then merely one of the five commission members, voted for the settlement, never saying whether he knew of the irregular meeting between Edison and Peevey, not coincidentally a former Edison president. He’s refused ever since to divulge why he voted yes.

Now ordinary citizens can at last speak out. Between now and the end of January, opinions and new information can be sent to the PUC public advisor at505 Van Ness St., San Francisco, CA 94102. Public hearings start in Los Angeles in February, with more the next month in San Diego. A supposedly final PUC decision will come later.

Clearly, the commission wants this stain on its record to fade away at last, after it has inflamed public opinion about the agency for years. At the same time, Edison and SDG&E will fight to keep the settlement as is.

The PUC also wants closure on the related criminal investigation that’s been hanging over it since subpoenas and search warrants were issued and carried out against it and Peevey in early 2014 because of their actions in this case.

The investigation began under former Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a U.S. senator, and may have continued under her appointed successor Xavier Becerra. Becerra’s office has refused to answer questions from this column and others about the investigation, not even indicating whether it is still ongoing.

“The Attorney General’s office has sent mixed signals concerning the status of its investigation,” griped PUC lawyer Pamela Naughton in a court filing.

Naughton is among the private criminal lawyers hired by the PUC at public expense of more than $10 million because it was up against the attorney general, who normally represents the commission. Neither the PUC nor anyone else has ever cited any law allowing the PUC to hire private lawyers with public money to defend actions by individual commissioners or staffers. This may be another PUC scandal waiting to break.

But Naughton, no matter the legality of her retainer, is correct that the public deserves to know whether there is still an investigation. After all, no one has yet been punished, even though the sometimes comedic PUC did absurdly fine Edison $16 million in 2015 for not reporting meetings with the commission’s own members.

The bottom line: Closure is long overdue on San Onofre, but not at the expense of whitewashing any part of this plainly unjust use of public authority and funds.

Related Posts

Opinion: SB 9, 10: The Rebellion Begins

November 19, 2021

November 19, 2021

By Tom Elias, Columnist It was inevitable from the moment Gov. Gavin Newsom in mid-September signed this year’s two most...

Sacto Dems Dump Prop. 13 Reforms

November 5, 2021

November 5, 2021

By Tom Elias, Columnist For more than 40 years, Democrats in Sacramento have talked fervently about reforming the 1978 Proposition...

SMa.r.t. Column: When Water Runs Out

October 15, 2021

October 15, 2021

What happens when a City runs out of water? You have already heard of the torture endured by communities in...

Message From Santa Monica’s New City Manager David White

October 11, 2021

October 11, 2021

To the Santa Monica Community – it is with tremendous excitement that today I begin my first day as your...

Hot Flash: Can You Look Sexy in a CPAP?

September 26, 2021

September 26, 2021

I have sleep apnea.  I wear a CPAP to bed every night.  I look like I am a monster from...

LA County Committee Report Reflects a “Dire” Financial Future for Students of Santa Monica if City of Malibu’s Proposal to Split the District Is Approved

September 14, 2021

September 14, 2021

Editor’s note: the public comment period mentioned in the following letter has ended. The following is a letter from Santa...

SMa.r.t. Column: Stop the Steroids

September 10, 2021

September 10, 2021

Part 2/2 Santa Monicans face the usual fears of crime, Covid-19 and its collapsing job and housing impact including the...