Ken Harrison 6:41 p.m., Dec. 12
Multiple WEBA Status Reports Submitted in Latest Round to CPUC
In a sign of great division among competing parties, three separate concurrent status reports were filed with California's Public Utility Commission, revealing no imminent settlement in the Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA) application by Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric.
The WEBA application, if approved by CPUC, would give SCE, PG&E and SDG&E the authority to bill their ratepaying customers for each utility's future uninsured legal and other expenses due to wildfires. Separately, SDG&E estimates that all legal and related expenses from the 2007 San Diego County wildfires will exceed the over-$1 billion in coverage it purchased for that year. Since 2007, all three of the investor owned utilities (IOUs) have complained that insurers have raised prices, lowered coverage, or left the public utility wildfire insurance market altogether, much to the official surprise of SDG&E according to the utility's other recent CPUC filings.
Up to now, there have been several monthly status reports filed with CPUC. SCE had always been the only party to submit the joint status report each time in previous months. In this latest instance, two additional status reports were submitted by parties in opposition, namely the Mussey Grade Road Alliance of Ramona and Ruth Henricks by her attorney, former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirrre.
Earlier this year, Aguirre was interviewed by KUSI's Turko Files, where he revealed that it was a common practice for SDG&E officials to meet with CPUC regulators at private dinners at San Francisco jazz clubs and Hawaiian resort hotels. An SDG&E vice president responded that all parties have the opportunity to wine and dine with commissioners, but the appearance of SDG&E meetings with state regulators “has stink all over it”, according to reporter Michael Turko.
CPUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates is opposed to the IOU application in its current form as an open-ended and potentially unlimited liability against ratepayers by what could be utility negligence and regulatory indifference by utilities causing wildfires. The 2007 San Diego County wildfires caused the most massive mandatory evacuation of neighborhoods in San Diego County history.
The Mussey Grade Road Alliance filing includes a request to move the future CPUC hearings on the matter to San Diego, “ground zero for fires ignited by power lines in 2007.”
Both alternate status reports by Henricks and the Ramona alliance cite the need for the IOUs to submit their revised application before moving to a prehearing conference as the next stage before CPUC either accepts a future WEBA application settlement or makes a ruling on the awaited revised application. The fear by the two parties in opposition is that IOU attorneys are attempting to force a CPUC ruling without submitting their revised application as the IOUs were ordered to submit in an earlier 2009 CPUC decision in the WEBA application process.
According to the California Public Utilities Code at Section 2102, the act of any public utility in violation or defiance of a CPUC decision causes CPUC to have its own attorney sue the offending utility by seeking an injunction or mandamus against the utility. Also, the act of any public utility in violation or defiance of a CPUC decision results in cumulative penalties of up to $20,000 daily for each continuing offense per Section 2107.
A CPUC lawsuit over WEBA decision defiance pursuant to Section 2102 would most likely be accompanied by the Commission's blanket denial of the IOU WEBA authority application, potentially leaving the non-governmental utilities and their holding companies vulnerable to future wildfire lawsuits. Perhaps the time has arrived for California IUO holding company shareholders to inquire as to whether their utility attorneys and executives are being paid too much to subject shareholder assets to the foreseeable consequences of utility uninsured wildfire liability.