Downtown San Diego skyline during the 2007 wildfires
After a battle that has gone on for a decade, the California Public Utilities Commission today (November 30) stunned observers by unanimously declaring that San Diego Gas & Electric cannot pass along to ratepayers $379 million of uninsured costs of the 2007 San Diego wildfires.
There is a long history here. First, a commissioner slipped the sting on ratepayers into a document that was not related to the fires. Local activists caught the ruse and an embarrassed commission voted that San Diego Gas & Electric could not pass on these costs to ratepayers. Earlier, two regulatory bodies, including one that is part of the utilities commission, said SDG&E's negligence was to blame for the fires.
But those who know how the utilities commission operates said that SDG&E and the commission would try again. They did. But ratepayers complained bitterly at local meetings. Ratepayers are not supposed to pay for mistakes by management. Two administrative law judges said ratepayers should not have to pay. The commission delayed its decision four times. Finally, it ruled today in favor of the administrative law judges: the ratepayers shouldn't have to pay for the egregious mistakes of management.
Also today, San Diego attorneys Maria Severson and Mike Aguirre released a comprehensive study showing how the commission is run by the three investor-owned utilities — Sempra (SDG&E's parent), Edison International, and Pacific Gas & Electric — it is supposed to regulate. The report shows how the commission through the years has kowtowed to Wall Street, assuring analysts that the regulator is obsessively concerned about utility profits.
Much of the eye-opening material has been reported in the Reader and in other publications, but I had never seen the report on one incident: "Internal emails showed Wall Street analysts threatened to lower their utility stock recommendations unless the governor kept the [commission] free from consumer protection appointees. The current [commission] board is made up exclusively for former governor appointees and staff," says the report.