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.