Downtown San Diego skyline during the 2007 wildfires
San Diego Gas & Electric in 2012 tried to get ratepayers to pick up the tab for uninsured costs of the 2007 fires, for which a unit of the California Public Utilities Commission blamed SDG&E's negligence. A utilities commissioner snuck in a phrase sticking the ratepayers with the cost, buried in a document having nothing to do with the 2007 fires. Two local activists caught the ruse, and an embarrassed commission had to turn down the request. A former utilities commission official chuckled and told me that they would be back.
Sure enough, this year, SDG&E is back, asking for ratepayers to pick up $379 million of the uninsured costs. That comes to $280 a household, says Diane Conklin of the Mussey Grade Alliance.
This afternoon (January 9), the utilities commission held a hearing on the question at the California Center for the Arts conference center in Escondido. More than 110 ratepayers from Ramona, Escondido, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Fallbrook, and Rancho Bernardo gave SDG&E a tongue-lashing.
They stressed that the utility caused the fires and there was no way ratepayers should cough up for management negligence. The people cited the concept of "moral hazard" — if the utility gets away with such an egregious cost-shifting, it won't be vigilant in the future, knowing the utilities commission will have ratepayers bail it out.
The people mentioned that some residents did not get 100 percent recovery and are now paying expensive insurance premiums, and "it's unconscionable that the utility is back," trying to pick ratepayers' pockets again, after being turned down in 2012, says Conklin. There is a second meeting this evening.