Sheila Pell 11 a.m., Oct. 22
Wanted: Public Hearings on SDGE's Planned Fleece Job
San Diego County's Mussey Grade Alliance today (Jan. 17) formally requested that San Diegans have a chance for a public hearing on a planned San Diego Gas & Electric caper that in my opinion could be one of the county's all-time swindles if OK'd by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). And, astonishingly enough, SDGE is so confident that it will succeed at the ripoff that its corporate parent, Sempra Energy, has already told shareholders that it expects to haul in its loot. That statement was made in Sempra's last annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), even though the arrangement has not been formally OK'd by CPUC, and in fact the payment request had not been made at the time of the SEC filing.
Background: after the 2007 fires, regulators said that SDGE had violated state regulatory rules by improper transmission design and brush management failures. Some lawsuits were filed and settled but more remain. The settlements exceeded SDGE's insurance coverage. Then SDGE, SCE and Pacific Gas & Electric went to the CPUC and asked that consumers -- the victims of the fires -- pay for costs of future fires, rather than shareholders. The utilities said that fire insurance had become so expensive that they wanted consumers to pay for liabilities above their insurance coverage. SCE and Pacific Gas & Electric dropped out in November.
In the original application, there was no request for coverage for the 2007 fires. But in December, SDGE quietly added a sentence saying they wanted coverage for the 2007 fires, too. There were hearings Jan. 11-13 in which these matters were discussed. Mussey attorney Diane Conklin raised the issue of public hearings for San Diegans and got little response from the administrative law judge. San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre asked that, if Sempra is so confident of getting the money, had there been a secret meeting? He got little response. Aguirre and administrative law judge tangled throughout the hearings. A SDGE witness for the first time admitted that the amount the company would receive under its scheme would be $463.9 million for the 2007 fires alone. That number would grow because of the current lawsuits. This could balloon to more than $1 billion, says Aguirre, plus coverage for future fires is a blank check.
Any public hearing in San Diego would focus on whether there was a backroom deal, how much San Diego customers would have to pay SDGE each year, and why the liability should not be picked up by the shareholders of Sempra rather than consumers.