Avoidance Also Good For Utility Statutory Neglect?

A list, compiled by Sempra Utilities attorneys of state and federal laws designed to protect the public from harm by smart grid leaks of personal consumer information, seemed a little light when it was filed with California's Public Utilities Commission as part of a brief in the CPUC Rule-making R0812009 proceeding. The list was compiled with an emphasis on CPUC state and federal authorities over third-party disclosures, but nothing was included relative to any public utility responsibility for the systemic integrity of consumer transactions in a smart grid context.

The Sempra Utilities brief was submitted jointly by attorneys for San Diego Gas and Electric Company and Southern California Gas Company, with Allen K. Trial representing SDG&E and Steven D. Patrick representing SCG.

One state law that was absent from the utility attorneys' list was the Sabotage Prevention Act in the California Military and Veterans Code. The Sabotage Prevention Act specifically names public utility overhead lines and other power utility transmission and distribution grid components as defense preparedness activities that must be inspected and protected from damage and destruction. According to the Act, anyone noting on inspection any defects in any defense preparedness activity but failing to report deficiencies or otherwise safeguard the defense preparedness activity is subject to severe penalties if persons are harmed or killed as a result of statutory neglect as to the Act. As to “anyone”, there are no explicit exemptions in the Sabotage Prevention Act for public utilities that are aware of their own deficiencies for failure to make their own property safe according to the Act's mandated standards for defense preparedness activities.

Taken as a whole, the list submitted by utility attorneys stands as presumptive admissions of smart grid deficiencies in the context of defense preparedness activities under the Sabotage Prevention Act.

It would by a reasonable thing for CPUC to move on its own to require all public utilities to adhere to the Sabotage Prevention Act, where the statutory authority to do this is contained in the California Public Utilities Code as to utility obligations to obey all state laws in providing service to the public and where violations result in mandated legal action against the offending utility by the attorney for CPUC. This writer believes that the absence of CPUC requiring such compliance in the regulated power industry has been and will be a major contributing factor to the continuing threat of utility-caused and utility-fed wildfires. Damages from these same wildfires are being used in an historical context by investor owned utilities including SDG&E as justification for a number of rate hike proposals. One joint IOU proposal includes the authority to create Wildfire Expense Balancing Accounts (WEBA) for accumulating utility wildfire legal liabilities and then having power consumers paying off those WEBA liabilities without limit and without concern for any utility negligence or illegal acts as contributing factors.

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