Vincent Farnsworth 6:31 p.m., Dec. 4
Kinder, Gentler SDG&E Proposes 7% Rate Increase RE Uninsured Wildfire Legal Costs
SUPERIOR COURT JUSTICE COMPLEX - San Diego Gas and Electric Company (SDG&E) has introduced its general rate increase application with a pair of headlines in our distinguished daily paper this morning, claiming of the front page that SDG&E needs a 7% rate increase to cover what it could not get insured during the 2007 San Diego County wildfire complex.
At the same time, a lead article in the paper's business section describes the efforts of the new SDG&E chief executive officer, a former California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) commissioner, to change the public's mistrustful stance regarding the actions and intent of Sempra Energy's SDG&E.
Now, as consumers of power from SDG&E, there are at least two approaches we can take: either we do something to protect ourselves from the tax increase effect that this and other SDG&E proposals* have on us in a relatively stagnant economy, or we do nothing and just take it in the assets.
On the “do nothing” side, it pretty much says it all. We do nothing, and our rates go up because we do not file protest letters against the general rate case and therefore don't become parties to the proceeding before CPUC. As an alternative, in doing nothing, we don't send letters to CPUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates, so that CPUC DRA intervenes on our behalf with the knowledge that we are watching to see what CPUC DRA will do in opposition to the general rate case proposal by SDG&E.
Before discussing what we can do, it is time to explain why these blog entries exist in the first place.
A web log or 'blog is a writing that is posted on the Internet for others to see. In earlier times, sailing ship captains maintained a log of actions taken, mostly on the threat of coming before an admiralty board with little except the log as evidence of what the captain did or did not do to insure the safety of his ship, its crew, and valued cargo. In the present day, log books of engineers are evidence of what the engineer did or did not do in the construction of things ranging from private buildings to bridges, freeways, and other items classified as public infrastructure. In any case, a blog is an exercise of the American freedom of speech, where it can be hoped that the blog posts do what journalism in general is supposed to do: inform the public of things that comfort the afflicted as they afflict the comfortable, where the comfortable seem to enjoy silence on those matters of theirs that afflict the rest of us. This should be especially true of blog posts at the Reader, which has become the default alternative print news source in San Diego County and is also the leading indicator of the red hot manufacturing sector in San Diego County (if plastic surgery advertising in the Reader is any indication of the demand for manufactured appearances in and around La Jolla-UTC and of that region's Real Housewives).
One entity which particularly enjoys silence is Sempra Energy, which has what CPUC calls a first priority condition to infuse capital into Sempra Energy's SDG&E when SDG&E's business practices result in the utility not having the capital sufficiently adequate for its purpose of being a public utility, even if CPUC-necessary capital infusions to SDG&E cause a loss at Sempra Energy. Other than posted entries in this blog, you won't find that information on the Internet unless you dig through the on-line CPUC Docket Card for the First Priority Condition on Utility Holding Companies decision back to 2001 or so.
As a matter of disclosure, none of my blog posts has ever made the cut for a monthly neighborhood blog prize, and I am not employed in any capacity by the Reader, so I thus far have no financial interest in anybody reading or not reading this stuff.
Also, I am not connected to SDG&E through the power grid at my home address. In fact, my main thing for people who are mistrustful and/or fed up with SDG&E but aren't turned on to being a proceeding protester or intervenor is to recommend doing what I am doing, which is moving toward generating my own electricity off the grid as a FEMA-sanctioned homeland security/emergency management measure in anticipation of SDG&E partial or complete grid failure, no matter what SDG&E does or fails to do in violation of the California Public Utilities Code or of any CPUC orders or rulings pursuant thereof. One square yard of 45-watt off-grid solar panels can be obtained at about $250 or less from Harbor Freight, then added to with additional sets of one square yard panels, and as long as one keeps those panels off the grid (the same grid where it still isn't possible to get paid for excess electricity confiscated by SDG&E unless one becomes a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission non-nuclear Qualifying Facility), then nobody collecting home improvement fees behind a counter at City Hall need know about said panels producing off-grid home-brewed electricity either for one's own consumption or for sharing with one's neighbors. Once the panels are bought and paid for, one's continuing generation of usable electricity directly from free solar fusion for the rest of time is, well, free.
Sharing free electricity with one's neighbors. That's not what the investor-owned power industry had in mind when it first confronted by the idea of solar DG or Distributed Generation about a decade ago. Perhaps industry shareholding speculators are avoiding any thought about that becoming money-saving popular now. Notice how it does take time for investor-owned power industries to set up new revenue-generating empires on private property, does it not?
Having subjected Reader readers to the above, it is now time to discuss possible protest and intervenor actions before CPUC. Now, I am not an attorney, and I don't claim any of this is legal advice, but we all have the right to mention to each other that laws exist in California, or the right of us to remove the commander-in-chief of the state militia in time of war or change our state constitution is no right at all of an informed population of state electors. [Copy Note: explore renting this space to Gov. Davis reputation rehab committee]
CPUC Rule of Practice 1.4 - Participation in Proceedings.
(a) A person may become a party to a proceeding by:
(1) filing an application, petition, or complaint;
(2) filing (i) a protest or response to an application or petition, or (ii) comments in response to a rulemaking;
(3) making an oral motion to become a party at a prehearing conference or hearing; or
(4) filing a motion to become a party.
(b) A person seeking party status by motion pursuant to subsection (a)(3) or (a)(4) of this rule shall:
(1) fully disclose the persons or entities in whose behalf the filing, appearance or motion is made, and the interest of such persons or entities in the proceeding; and
(2) state the factual and legal contentions that the person intends to make and show that the contentions will be reasonably pertinent to the issues already presented.
(c) The assigned Administrative Law Judge may, where circumstances warrant, deny party status or limit the degree to which a party may participate in the proceeding.
(d) Any person named as a defendant to a complaint, or as a respondent to an investigation or a rulemaking, is a party to the proceeding.
Note: Authority cited: Section 1701, Public Utilities Code. Reference: Section 1701, Public Utilities Code.
California Public Utilities Code
Section 1801. The purpose of this article is to provide compensation for reasonable advocate's fees, reasonable expert witness fees, and other reasonable costs to public utility customers of participation or intervention in any proceeding of the commission.
Section 1801.3. [Intent of Legislature, encouraging the effective and efficient participation of all groups that have a stake in the public utility regulation process]
Section 1802. As used in this article:
(a) "Compensation" means payment for all or part, as determined by the commission, of reasonable advocate's fees, reasonable expert witness fees, and other reasonable costs of preparation for and participation in a proceeding, and includes the fees and costs of obtaining an award under this article and of obtaining judicial review, if any.
(b) (1) "Customer" means any of the following: (A) A participant representing consumers, customers, or subscribers of any electrical, gas, telephone, telegraph, or water corporation that is subject to the jurisdiction of the commission. (B) A representative who has been authorized by a customer. (C) A representative of a group or organization authorized pursuant to its articles of incorporation or bylaws to represent the interests of residential customers, or to represent small commercial customers who receive bundled electric service from an electrical corporation. ....
Section 1802.3. [Conflicts not waiverable in small business customer representation]
Section 1802.5. Participation by a customer that materially supplements, complements, or contributes to the presentation of another party, including the commission staff, may be fully eligible for compensation if the participation makes a substantial contribution to a commission order or decision, consistent with Section 1801.3.
Section 1803. The commission shall award reasonable advocate's fees, reasonable expert witness fees, and other reasonable costs of preparation for and participation in a hearing or proceeding to any customer who complies with Section 1804 and satisfies both of the following requirements: (a) The customer's presentation makes a substantial contribution to the adoption, in whole or in part, of the commission's order or decision. (b) Participation or intervention without an award of fees or costs imposes a significant financial hardship.
Section 1804. (a) (1) A customer who intends to seek an award under this article shall, within 30 days after the prehearing conference is held, file and serve on all parties to the proceeding a notice of intent to claim compensation. In cases where no prehearing conference is scheduled or where the commission anticipates that the proceeding will take less than 30 days, the commission may determine the procedure to be used in filing these requests. In cases where the schedule would not reasonably allow parties to identify issues within the timeframe set forth above, or where new issues emerge subsequent to the time set for filing, the commission may determine an appropriate procedure for accepting new or revised notices of intent.
(2) (A) The notice of intent to claim compensation shall include both of the following: (i) A statement of the nature and extent of the customer's planned participation in the proceeding as far as it is possible to set it out when the notice of intent is filed. (ii) An itemized estimate of the compensation that the customer expects to request, given the likely duration of the proceeding as it appears at the time. (B) The notice of intent may also include a showing by the customer that participation in the hearing or proceeding would pose a significant financial hardship. Alternatively, such a showing shall be included in the request submitted pursuant to subdivision (c). (C) Within 15 days after service of the notice of intent to claim compensation, the administrative law judge may direct the staff, and may permit any other interested party, to file a statement responding to the notice.
(b) (1) If the customer's showing of significant financial hardship was included in the notice filed pursuant to subdivision (a), the administrative law judge, in consultation with the assigned commissioner, shall issue within 30 days thereafter a preliminary ruling addressing whether the customer will be eligible for an award of compensation. The ruling shall address whether a showing of significant financial hardship has been made. A finding of significant financial hardship shall create a rebuttable presumption of eligibility for compensation in other commission proceedings commencing within one year of the date of that finding. (2) The administrative law judge may, in any event, issue a ruling addressing issues raised by the notice of intent to claim compensation. The ruling may point out similar positions, areas of potential duplication in showings, unrealistic expectation for compensation, and any other matter that may affect the customer's ultimate claim for compensation. Failure of the ruling to point out similar positions or potential duplication or any other potential impact on the ultimate claim for compensation shall not imply approval of any claim for compensation. A finding of significant financial hardship in no way ensures compensation. Similarly, the failure of the customer to identify a specific issue in the notice of intent or to precisely estimate potential compensation shall not preclude an award of reasonable compensation if a substantial contribution is made.
(c) Following issuance of a final order or decision by the commission in the hearing or proceeding, a customer who has been found, pursuant to subdivision (b), to be eligible for an award of compensation may file within 60 days a request for an award. The request shall include at a minimum a detailed description of services and expenditures and a description of the customer's substantial contribution to the hearing or proceeding. Within 30 days after service of the request, the commission staff may file, and any other party may file, a response to the request.
(d) The commission may audit the records and books of the customer to the extent necessary to verify the basis for the award. The commission shall preserve the confidentiality of the customer's records in making its audit. Within 20 days after completion of the audit, if any, the commission shall direct that an audit report shall be prepared and filed. Any other party may file a response to the audit report within 20 days thereafter.
(e) Within 75 days after the filing of a request for compensation pursuant to subdivision (c), or within 50 days after the filing of an audit report, whichever occurs later, the commission shall issue a decision that determines whether or not the customer has made a substantial contribution to the final order or decision in the hearing or proceeding. If the commission finds that the customer requesting compensation has made a substantial contribution, the commission shall describe this substantial contribution and shall determine the amount of compensation to be paid pursuant to Section 1806.
Section 1806. The computation of compensation awarded pursuant to Section 1804 shall take into consideration the market rates paid to persons of comparable training and experience who offer similar services. The compensation awarded may not, in any case, exceed the comparable market rate for services paid by the commission or the public utility, whichever is greater, to persons of comparable training and experience who are offering similar services.
Section 1807. Any award made under this article shall be paid by the public utility which is the subject of the hearing, investigation, or proceeding, as determined by the commission, within 30 days. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any award paid by a public utility pursuant to this article shall be allowed by the commission as an expense for the purpose of establishing rates of the public utility by way of a dollar-for-dollar adjustment to rates imposed by the commission immediately on the determination of the amount of the award, so that the amount of the award shall be fully recovered within one year from the date of the award.
Section 1808. The commission shall deny any award to any customer who attempts to delay or obstruct the orderly and timely fulfillment of the commission's responsibilities.
Now, if anybody wants legal advice as to what all that means, copy it and take it to a lawyer, as I am not one, and even if I was one, you didn't pay me. Personally, as an old English tutor, I trust that you can bust out a dictionary and pretty much figure it out that (1) YOU CAN (no pun intended) become a party to the general rate case by mailing a protest to CPUC about it and (2) if the Commission uses any part of your reasoning in arriving at its decision in the matter you declare your intervention in, then you just might get paid for it if you play nice by all of the rules above and then some.
Getting paid for doing right by the rest of us is not as easy as doing nothing, but doing nothing won't pay the bills that are going up from us doing nothing about it.
Of course, nobody is stopping any Reader reader from dropping Michael Shames a line at UCAN to express your frustrations, if you do happen to have any after reading the footnote below. If you are truly irked, there is always the CPUC's on-line complaint form.
There is a third option, one that San Diego City Council members won't even acknowledge as existing among its many ordinances: the 1970 electricity franchise simple majority voters' right to raise the annual electricity franchise fee to some level above 3%, so that SDG&E receives a price signal that it is time to put the darn power lines underground and therefore quit tapping us for their future overhead equipment failures that insurance companies are no longer dumb enough to insure.
*Other ongoing SDG&E proposals before CPUC to raise rates include the Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA) application A0908020 joined by Southern California Edison components and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (recovery of uninsured wildfire legal and other costs through monthly customer billings), the Z-Factor application A0908019 (for the same recovery as A0908020 as a potential double-billing of customers) and the time-based-billing PeakShift at Work/PeakShift at Home (PSW/PSH) application A1007009 (to raise small business and residential customer rates during normal business hours until a price signal forces those customers into evening and weekend hour usage).