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Public Utilities Commission reopens San Onofre case

Admits they "undermined public confidence in the agency"

Ask yourself: how could something so adorable possibly be problematic?
Ask yourself: how could something so adorable possibly be problematic?

In a surprise move, the California Public Utilities Commission today (May 9) reopened the 2014 agreement by which ratepayers got stuck with $3.3 billion of costs related to the sudden closing of the San Onofre nuclear plant. It became known as "the rape of the ratepayer" because management errors, such as those causing the San Onofre shutdown, should be charged to shareholders, not ratepayers.

The utilities regulator also banned all ex parte (one-sided) meetings with decision-makers or commissioners. As representatives of ratepayers expressed shock, past secret meetings between brass of Southern California Edison and commissioners came to light, clearly showing that the decision to plunk the burden of paying for San Onofre on ratepayers was reached through a series of clandestine, unreported meetings.

Up to now, ex parte meetings have been permitted as long as they were quickly revealed to all parties. The announcement today referred to the most infamous of those meetings — a Warsaw, Poland, huddle between former CPUC president Michael Peevey and Edison executive Stephen Pickett at which Peevey essentially sketched the strategy for fleecing ratepayers. The secret huddle was in 2013 and Edison did not report it until 2015. The commission in December noted eight such violations by Edison. This clandestine coziness "undermined public confidence in the agency," said the commission today — a laughably euphemistic way of stating the situation.

San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre, who with his partner Maria Severson has fought the CPUC/Edison secret affair most vigorously, mentioned a critical step that will be brought up. One act that has gotten little attention is that the commission asked a noted nuclear expert, Dr. Robert Budnitz, to study what happened at San Onofre. As soon as Budnitz said he wanted to find out what happened and who was to blame, the commission buried his investigation.

"Dr. Budnitz has given us a blueprint on how to carry out the investigation — asking who was responsible, when the mistakes were made,and what can be done to avoid them," said Aguirre this afternoon. The CPUC's killing of Budnitz's initial findings "has a lot to do with the pressure built up on the governor's office." Aguirre recently sued governor Jerry Brown for his refusal to hand over documents critical to the San Onofre mess.

"Hopefully [today's action] is a poster child not for the corruption of the CPUC, but for reformation of the CPUC," said Aguirre.

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Ask yourself: how could something so adorable possibly be problematic?
Ask yourself: how could something so adorable possibly be problematic?

In a surprise move, the California Public Utilities Commission today (May 9) reopened the 2014 agreement by which ratepayers got stuck with $3.3 billion of costs related to the sudden closing of the San Onofre nuclear plant. It became known as "the rape of the ratepayer" because management errors, such as those causing the San Onofre shutdown, should be charged to shareholders, not ratepayers.

The utilities regulator also banned all ex parte (one-sided) meetings with decision-makers or commissioners. As representatives of ratepayers expressed shock, past secret meetings between brass of Southern California Edison and commissioners came to light, clearly showing that the decision to plunk the burden of paying for San Onofre on ratepayers was reached through a series of clandestine, unreported meetings.

Up to now, ex parte meetings have been permitted as long as they were quickly revealed to all parties. The announcement today referred to the most infamous of those meetings — a Warsaw, Poland, huddle between former CPUC president Michael Peevey and Edison executive Stephen Pickett at which Peevey essentially sketched the strategy for fleecing ratepayers. The secret huddle was in 2013 and Edison did not report it until 2015. The commission in December noted eight such violations by Edison. This clandestine coziness "undermined public confidence in the agency," said the commission today — a laughably euphemistic way of stating the situation.

San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre, who with his partner Maria Severson has fought the CPUC/Edison secret affair most vigorously, mentioned a critical step that will be brought up. One act that has gotten little attention is that the commission asked a noted nuclear expert, Dr. Robert Budnitz, to study what happened at San Onofre. As soon as Budnitz said he wanted to find out what happened and who was to blame, the commission buried his investigation.

"Dr. Budnitz has given us a blueprint on how to carry out the investigation — asking who was responsible, when the mistakes were made,and what can be done to avoid them," said Aguirre this afternoon. The CPUC's killing of Budnitz's initial findings "has a lot to do with the pressure built up on the governor's office." Aguirre recently sued governor Jerry Brown for his refusal to hand over documents critical to the San Onofre mess.

"Hopefully [today's action] is a poster child not for the corruption of the CPUC, but for reformation of the CPUC," said Aguirre.

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37

Has Mr. Aguirre found his niche in life? While the in the past he has been consider a thorn in the sides of many, his role as advocate, maybe even as a tenacious super-advocate for ratepayers, seems to fit him well.

Now if the CPUC would play fair in two ways; formally recognize the multiple instances of improper collusion in this matter, and recognize Aguirre's work on behalf of ratepayers has value: he should receive intervenors fees.

May 9, 2016

JustWondering: Yes, he was cheated out of intervenor fees in two major cases in which he did far more work than any other intervenor. San Diego Gas & Electric and Michael Shames recommended that Aguirre not receive fees. This is how the scam works: the so-called intervenors who play ball with the commission -- kiss its rear end, actually -- get fat fees. Somebody effectively fighting for ratepayers doe not.

Those were more cases of Peevey's revenge. The CPUC has to forget the years that Peevey, a former president of Edison, dominated the CPUC, leading to deeply-inculcated corruption at the agency. Best, Don Bauder

May 9, 2016

Mike Aguirre's radio show has brightened many a morning for me.

http://knsj.org/

May 9, 2016

swell: When he was city attorney, he was dispiteously smeared by the Union-Tribune, which resented that he was trying to tame corporate welfare.

The U-T, which was (and still is) rigidly opposed to socialism, was all for corporate socialism, and hated Aguirre because he was trying to get rid of it. Capitalism for the poor and socialism for the rich -- that was the U-T's editorial slant, and still is. Best, Don Bauder

May 9, 2016

Oddly enough, I remind you, the rag backed and endorsed Aguirre for the office. At the time that move was inexplicable to me. But as soon as he took office the paper started after him. Do you have any explanation of those moves to share? Inquiring minds want to know.

May 9, 2016

Visduh: I don't know the explanation for that. So many corrupt factors go into such a decision. Many years ago, I wrote for the Reader how Scott Peters, then running for city council, was solicited by Bob Kittle, U-T editorial writer. Kittle wanted some favors -- poles taken down near his house, a "Slow" sign put on the street outside his residence, as I recall.

Kittle got the favors and Peters got a rave review from the U-T editorial board. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

Aguirre had much to do with the Chargers still playing in Qualcomm Stadium. I believe it was 2004 when the Chargers came out with a plan to build a new stadium surrounded by ancillary development in Mission Valley. They claimed they would build and pay for it all--if only the city would give them the land at the Qualcomm site for free. Aguirre said no, since (I believe) it was against the city charter to give away city land. He told the Chargers they could pay for the property and then build their stadium. The Chargers, of course, refused, and have blamed Aguirre ever since.

May 10, 2016

aardvark: That land doesn't belong only to the city. The water utilities department owns a large part of it. There is still controversy over whether there is a plume under the stadium. There were other complications. The Chargers once said they expected a developer to put a development of homes, condos, stores, etc. there. The Chargers presented what they touted as a plan but forgot all about parking! It was an insult. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

In a rational world the CPUC would have "reopened" this matter over a year ago. Is this the way Brownie can take the heat off? Are the FBI and DoJ breathing down his neck? Or is the commission actually attempting to exert its "independence" and ignore the political pressure coming from the Guv?

Yeah, a whole string of questions in the wake of this rather unprecedented action. Something is happening, and it may be good for ratepayers. But how this all plays out may take a long time.

I'd not advise the purchase of either Edison or Sempra stock in this current environment. Both are taking some major heat for their messes. It could just happen that the CPUC actually fulfills its duty to the consumers for a change and gives rate relief. Wouldn't that be a change?

May 9, 2016

Visduh: Yes, the CPUC could do the right thing. But I have been writing recently how Sempra stock has gone up sharply since the announcement of the Aliso Canyon leak last fall. I have quoted Wall Street analysts boasting how California utility regulation is "constructive." That means it is pro-utility profits and anti-connsumer. And it sure it. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

Sure, the CPUC could do the right thing. Brown's sister resigned a few years ago, and we all are supposed to forget she was right in the middle of it.

May 11, 2016

Wabbitsd: Kathleen Brown is still on the Sempra board. Best, Don Bauder

May 12, 2016

This iceberg is only the tip of an exponentially larger iceberg, under which lies a yet exponentially larger one . . . aw, hell--it's iceberg's all the way down!

May 9, 2016

Flapper: Good analogy -- telling how ratepayers get frozen out of decisions and Wall Street gets a warm embrace from the commission. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

LMAO the very corrupt commission is going to reopen the SONGS case and do what? They are all corrupt and bought and paid for. What should happen is that the PUC should be disbanded and a new PUC established with commissioners installed by the voters and not by the usual political hacks. All commissioners involved with the SONGS decision should be investigated, charged and prosecuted along with the collaborators from the utilities. Oh well, maybe there is a Santa Clause.

May 10, 2016

AlexClarke: Yes, there should be a genuine criminal investigation -- and not just of Peevey. Remember, it takes two to tango. What REALLY has to be investigated criminally is how much money those utilities pass under the table to commissioners and CPUC decision makers. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

Thank you to Mike Aguirre and Don for fighting to expose the truth.

Glad to see some progress has been made in your fight.

May 10, 2016

So Severson had nothing to do with it?

May 12, 2016

Flapper: Severson gets dual credit with Aguirre. She has done an excellent job on this. Best, Don Bauder

May 13, 2016

ImJustABill: Aguirre and Severson deserve the credit -- unless this is just another coverup by the CPUC. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

all the sweeping the situation under the rug left some sizable lumps, and Mike Aguirre is just the one to call attention to them.

May 10, 2016

Murphyjunk: Maybe the plume under Qualcomm consists of detritus the CPUC and city have been sweeping under the sod. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

Congratulations to law partners Mike Aguirre and Mia Severson for fighting for ratepayer justice and prevailing to get this "settlement" reopened. As for a criminal prosecution of the CPUC for collusion, it will never happen as long as collaborators and CPUC buddies Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris hold office. Largely because of Kamala Harris' self-serving approach to doing her job, I urge a vote for her opponent LORETTA SANCHEZ for UNITED STATES SENATE. Sanchez fights for the public interest much as retiring Senator Barbara Boxer has always done, plus she is Latina and from SoCal. We could use some representation for a change.

May 10, 2016

monaghan: If Loretta Sanchez fights for the public interest, she deserves to get the job. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

Great news since SCE is trying to use poor quality casks that will not last very long which means that ratepayers might very well get stuck paying huge amounts of money in the future (including additional profits for SCE/SDG/E) to deal with leaking radiation from these cheap casks!

Also some more good news, Two years of effort has culminated in a decision of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to reopen the San Onofre settlement agreement that saddled utility customers with a $3.3 billion debt. Credit goes largely to the press for their steadfast work to expose the wrongdoing that led to a secret deal struck in Warsaw, Poland to make ratepayers pay for the premature closing of the San Onofre Plant.

+

The majority of U.S. nuclear power facilities are storing highly radioactive nuclear waste in thin-walled canisters that cannot be inspected, maintained, repaired, and can crack and leak in the short-term, with no approved plan in place to remediate a major radiation release into the environment. Luckily we have local experts that are trying to help us do the job right the first time instead of taking chances with our long term safety in order to make a quick buck now. https://sanonofresafety.org/ + Here is a wonderful free animation that shows what could have happened if San Onofre (aka SanO) Unit 2 was restarted and one or more of its replacement steam generator (RSGs) tubes failed... Note you can move your cursor around the animation and explore many different sub-animations. http://acehoffman.blogspot.com/2013/02/new-animation-shows-what-could-happen.html

May 10, 2016

CaptD: That nuclear waste sitting by the sea on an earthquake fault should arouse the citizenry. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

I thought ex parte meeting already were illegal.

May 10, 2016

Flapper: No, until yesterday's decision, ex parte huddles were not illegal as long as they were quickly reported to all parties. Edison waited two years to report this huddle and then came up with very weak lies to try to cover its tracks. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

San Diego Highwayman: They deserve applause. Best, Don Bauder

May 10, 2016

Don — A good rule of thumb will be if Aguirre & Severson (A&S) actually get to cross examine SCE (and others that worked with them), until that occurs there will be no real "investigation."

A&S now have more than enough Techinical information to prove (in a honest court) that:

  1. SCE not only knew their in-house Replacement Steam Generator (RSG) design had serious design features that could easily affect their safe operation but SCE also began to eliminate key employees at San Onofre that spoke up early on, in order to warn management that their would be problems with the flawed RSG design.

  2. SCE's engineers never even did the required analysts to prove the safety of their RSG design. Later the NRC only slap them on the wrist for that, which also protect their own NRC Region IV employees that were supposed to be overseeing SCE's operation of San Onofre.

  3. SCE ran Unit 3 "over it redline" in an unauthorized experiment, which caused the radioactive leak on 01/31/12. In hind sight, it was a lucky thing for everyone in SoCal, since that leak lead to a required major inspections of both Unit 2 (which just happened to be shut down for a scheduled refueling) and Unit 3. The inspections of the almost new RSG's discovered "unprecedented" damage in all of the RSG's which together had more internal tube damage than all the rest of the US Nuclear "Fleet" combined! It is very important to note that SCE still refuses to release its operational data from that day because it will prove that they, not ratepayers are completely at fault!

  4. SCE worked with the NRC, the CPUC, their Pro-Utility advocates (like TURN and UCAN) and many elected Leaders that acknowledge SCE and SDG&E's political muscle to downplay what had occurred at San Onofre in an attempt to protect themselves from public scrutiny.

  5. SCE decided to decommission San Onofre to end all investigations into it's wrong doings after securing a behind closed door deal with the CPUC, which made ratepayers responsible for almost all costs and even SCE's lost profits!

May 12, 2016

CaptD: I agree. Aguirre and Severson should be permitted to cross-examine both CPUC officials and Edison management. They should be put under oath so that if they are caught in a lie they will go to prison. Just look at all the lies Edison has told. And the lies CPUC officials have told. Just think if someone could have forced them to make those statements under oath.

Much of Edison's management would be in prison. Almost all of the CPUC officials involved in this matter would be in adjoining cells. Best, Don Bauder

May 12, 2016

Don — I fully expect that if it really does comes anywhere near to answering questions under oath, SCE will make the CPUC an offer they can't refuse (since the CPUC is also implicated) that will settle the investigation with no admission of wrongdoing, while paying all the legal fees of Aguirre & Severson and their experts, as well as those of the other credible intervenors.

Either way, SCE is going to sweeten the offer, probably in several stages long before they get cornered into saying anything substantial before the CPUC. My guess right now is that SCE (and SDG&E) will end up offering to pay for 90% of the San Onofre debacle (nor any lost profits) to settle the ratepayers case against them.

One can just imagine all the apropos to nothing discussions that have been and will continue to take place between the advisors of the Governor, the AG and the CPUC's very expensive lawyers not to mention SCE's own advisors that will never be revealed to the public!

As part of the settlement, four additional seats should be added to the Advisory Board to be filled by people chosen by the groups that have protested against the San Onofre settlement. That would go a long way toward providing some much need "reality" to what is now a dog & pony show as the decisions they are making could have enormous fiscal impacts on SoCal if done on the cheap, as SCE has demonstrated it has a track record of doing.

Finally, I would suggest that if San Onofre had suffered a small but significant radioactive leak due to one or more leaking steam generator tube failures which then contaminated parts of the beach area to the south, you can just imagine the decades of profits that SCE would have gotten to collect; just like TEPCO is now doing because of their Fukushima's nuclear accident in Japan...

May 12, 2016

Sorry, I'm not knowledgeable enough to understand the last paragraph.

May 12, 2016

Flapper: Regulators permit utilities to boost profits when they have a calamity that has to be cleaned up, even if the calamity was caused by corrupt and/or inept management. I wrote a column on that about a year ago. The more the utilities screw up, the more the regulators permit them in profits. Best, Don Bauder

May 13, 2016

CaptD: Oh boy, would I love to see Aguirre and Severson depose Peevey, top executives of Edison, and other officials of the CPUC. Best, Don Bauder

May 13, 2016

"apropos to nothing" S.O. P.

May 12, 2016

Flapper: The phenomenon is not apropos to nothing. The fact that utilities' profits go up when management makes a blooper -- especially a dangerous one -- is relevant indeed. Best, Don Bauder

May 13, 2016

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