Onell Soto in today's daily paper announced that San Diego Gas and Electric Company (SDG&E) agreed to pay $14.8 million to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to settle consumer protection investigations into SDG&E involvement in the 2007 San Diego wildfire complex.

According to Soto, CPUC Commissioner Timothy Simon stated: " 'Today's decision is a victory for California as we enforce vigilance over our essential facilities. ... This Commission has the ability, it has the constitutional authority, to insure that public safety remains paramount.' "

The proposed settlement comes less than a week after former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre's announcement on the KUSI Turko Files of his intervention into the SDG&E Wildfire Expense Balancing Account application before CPUC. Aguirre alleges that relations between SDG&E and CPUC are suspiciously close, with private dinner meetings at jazz clubs and Hawaiian vacation spots.

One of those private meetings took place between a CPUC commissioner and the new president of SDG&E, himself a former CPUC commissioner.

According to SDG&E and other corporate utilties, insurers have become adverse to insuring operators of overhead power lines at previous levels, where SDG&E's own coverage has fallen to only about $400 million this year.

SDG&E owner Sempra Energy earlier reported 2009 revenues of just over $8 billion, and is currently paying out about 40% of retained earnings as dividends to stockholders.

In the WEBA application by SDG&E, PG&E (of Prop. 16 fame) and SCE, those investor owned public utilities (IOUs) stated that CPUC had a constitutional duty to pass uninsured wildfire legal expenses and other related costs onto consumers, thus protecting the IOU stockholders from the obvious-to-insurers risk of IOU decisions not to place power lines underground. According to the IOUs application and subsequent testimony, this CPUC constitutional duty owed to the IOUs existed to pass costs onto consumers even if IOU employees negligently caused the wildfires.

Between the wildfire testimony given last year and a previous $1 million fine for withholding material information in the Sunrise Powerlink application and testimony, there appears to be a pattern of failing to disclose information that has in specific matters reached the level of "investigatory obstruction" according to CPUC. SDG&E has denied liability for untruthful statements, despite the fact that its liability insurance carrier has paid the Sunrise Powerlink application & testimony fine. Further, one SDG&E spokesperson has stated that any missing documents were later provided to CPUC in the Sunrise Powerlink matter.

In Soto's article, it is revealed that much of SDG&E's $1.1 billion in 2007 wildfire coverage will be eaten up by $920 million to insurers with homeowner claims as a result of about 1300 homes lost in the Witch, Rice and Guejito Fires. In previous conversations, attorneys for some of the victims have complained that the settlements with insurers were meant to cut homeowners out of the settlement process, victims who are now left to fight with their own insurers over the remnants of the $920 million.

See Also:

SDG&E Computer Model Failed to Predict 2007 Rice Wildfire

In Other News

I've been told to be on the lookout for filed protests against SDG&E's proposed Net Energy Metering scheme, a required filing under AB 920 to set a reimbursement rate for SDG&E solar panel customers who generate more electricity than they can use in a given year. Previously, any excess electricity was simply confiscated by SDG&E without payment to those customers with more than enough grid-tied solar panels.

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