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WEBA Approval by CPUC = “Limitless” Higher Utility Rates

The Mussey Grade Road Alliance is opposing the Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA) application submitted by San Diego Gas and Electric Company (SDG&E) and other investor owned utilities (“IOUs”) to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The Alliance seeks to protect Ramona residents and other SDG&E customers from carrying the burden of an application approval that “awards a competitive advantage to utilities that minimize their capital infrastructure investment and safety improvements while, at the same time shifts the cost burden of wildland fire ignitions caused by utility infrastructure to California ratepayers.”

The opposition filing continues: “They [the IOUs] aspire to accomplish this through the establishment of a rate-based account to pay for uninsured costs as a result of wildland fires ignited by their own equipment. In doing this, the 'Big Three' utilities in California have declared war on wildland fire at the expense of ratepayers.”

“In effect, they are asking us, the ratepayers, to reimburse them for their lack of due diligence in the safe construction and maintenance of their electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure. This is tantamount to saying that they are not responsible for what happens to the communities and customers they serve vis a vis wildland fire ignitions caused by their equipment.”

Further, the Alliance stated in opposition: “Under this [WEBA] scheme the utilities would pass on the cost to customers of their own infrastructure safety insufficiencies by requiring their ratepayers to absorb not only the shock of wildland fires caused by their equipment, including inevitable deaths and massive destruction that wind-driven power line fires are known for, but also to subsidize the applicants’ profit margins by raising their customers’ electricity rates.”

When provided with the opportunity to respond, the IOUs collectively replied that the Alliance needs to define exactly what it means when it says “responsible”, as if the Ramona group was not capable of using the word in an ordinary, reasonable manner.

SDG&E is very careful when its lawyers uses words.

According to the Sabotage Prevention Act contained in the California Military and Veterans Code, if “anyone” who notes on inspection some sort of defect in a defense preparedness activity and then somebody else dies as a result of “anyone's” failure to act on facts revealed by inspection, then “anyone” is in a whole heap o' felony-smelling trouble. This is because a defense preparedness activity comes under the combined direct supervision of the Commander in Chief of the Militia of California and the Adjutant General, especially whenever the provisions of the State Military Reserve Act have been triggered by a couple of active wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The CinC and/or AG can be rightly annoyed by anyone sabotaging a defense preparedness activity, where the definition by statute of defense preparedness activities explicitly includes any power lines operated by a public utility.

As a matter of foreshadowing, the word “inspector” as in one who “inspects” is not a word to be used lightly by SDG&E employees or contractors.

SDG&E sent it's vegetation management director to testify before CPUC about the causes of the 2007 San Diego county wildfires, after CPUC's Consumer Protection and Safety Division became aware that a contracted tree “pre-inspector” had entered into the veggie management program's computer program that a certain tree needed tree trimming in the next “0-3 months.” Now, “0-3 months” could very well mean to an ordinary, reasonable person that the tree was looked at by the contractor who then dutifully reported her or his observations to SDG&E's automated vegetation management program. In any case, the system was notified, but the veggie management director of SDG&E testified that because he didn't get the memo, it didn't count.

Unfortunately, the power line next to the tree managed to touch the tree, thereby burning down a historically significant amount of San Diego county within 0-3 months, now known as the Rice Fire. A number of people appear to have died and a larger number were injured, evacuated, or had to stay behind to save their own homes or those of their neighbors as a result of the 2007 San Diego county wildfires caused by equipment that happens to be owned and operated by SDG&E, even if it was only “pre-inspected.”

But the tree next to the power line as discussed above could not for any purpose or for any reason have been possibly or even conceivably inspected by anyone who is only, merely a “pre-inspector” under contract to SDG&E.

For ordinary, reasonable people, something might be foully felony-smelling by this time. Unless the AG is asleep at his three-starred desk, something certainly ought to be foully felony-smelling to him or at least the Governator's personal military staff officers, if for no other reason than the military necessity of National Guard planning for the utility-foreseeable inevitability of future wildfires. At least, future wildfires have been that foreseeable in IOU filings to CPUC regarding the need for WEBA authority approval to protect utility stockholders, where doing the the right thing by the customers and other residents of San Diego County about the main cause of catastrophic wildfires before 2063 has a lesser priority for SDG&E.

CPUC is expected to rule on the WEBA application shortly. If CPUC does approve of the WEBA scheme, then SDG&E and other investor owned utilities that are sued for wildfire damage may transfer the amounts of courtroom judgments against them to WEBA and then pass on the uninsured portion to consumers with added fees on their monthly bills.

This writer is thankful for the interest shown by the Mussey Grade Road Alliance in the WEBA proceedings, as SDG&E and the other investor owned utilities are requiring CPUC to enforce a rule that forbids any public hearings on the WEBA application's merits.

In the meantime, mandated mediation continues on SDG&E's plan to preemptively cut power in Ramona and other places during high dry winds, SDG&E makes preparations to exercise eminent domain against previously-selected county residents, and there are more and more smart meters for customers being kept clueless in the dark, every day.

Sempra Energy is really getting closer, igniting opposition like a burning roller coaster.

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