Ken Leighton 3:30 p.m., Feb. 15
SDG&E Tries to Nix Public Hearing on Fire Insurance Scam
San Diego Gas & Electric has told the California Public Utilities Commission that there is no need for local public hearings now on its attempt to get customers to pick up uninsured costs of the 2007 wildfires. Recently, the Mussey Grade Road Alliance asked for such a hearing. SDG&E has been requesting that ratepayers pick up the tab for certain insurance expenses in the future. In a one-sentence request snuck into verbiage on that topic, it also asked for coverage for the 2007 fires, for which regulators found that it had responsibility because of negligence. Immediately, the Mussey group said that the San Diego public must know about this backdoor maneuver — and also know more about the blank check that would be written to cover future liabilities.
Now SDG&E has told the CPUC that it would be "inefficient and confusing" to hold such public meetings at this time. SDG&E, in essence, wants the CPUC to set up the mechanism for its sticking ratepayers with the bill. Then, after the amount is determined, the company says it would be amenable to public discussion. But once the mechanism is set up, the ballgame is over. "This is like SDG&E saying that 'We are constructing a guillotine, but you don't need to have any public comments now. Wait until the blade is against your neck," says Diane Conklin, spokesperson for the Mussey alliance.
What is highly suspicious is that in its November 3, 2011, quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, SDG&E's parent, Sempra Energy, told its shareholders that "it is probable that it will be permitted" to collect the 2007 fires liability costs, which come to $463.9 million. SDG&E is now saying it is not certain what those costs will be, but Sempra has already told its shareholders it expects to recover the costs and book them as a regulatory asset. Several people, myself included, suspect that a closed-door deal has already been made. I believe that not only should there be public discussions, but the commissioners of the CPUC and officers of SDG&E should be put under oath and asked if there was a backroom deal.