By Diane Conklin
Guess what you might find under your Christmas tree this year courtesy of the California Public Utilities Commission and San Diego Gas & Electric?
A decision, all wrapped up on Dec. 20 with a big red bow, which will allow SDG&E to charge you for uninsured costs of fires they start in the future. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving! Wrapped inside you also might find another huge gift — to allow SDG&E to charge you untold millions for its 2007 fires. What a way to celebrate the season of sharing.
How is this possible? Well, SDG&E’s ill-conceived application to charge all of its customers for uninsured costs of fires (officially called A.09-08-020 Wildfire Expense Balancing Account — WEBA) was supposed to be decided on Nov. 29. But after a Nov. 26 “All Party Meeting” in San Francisco during which the five CPUC commissioners (one by phone), appointed by Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown, heard off-the-record discussions about this application by parties in the proceeding, the decision was postponed to this month.
The Mussey Grade Road Alliance, which has been fighting this application worth untold millions of ratepayer dollars, is a party in this proceeding and attended the All Party Meeting. Prior to the meeting we were shocked to receive late on the evening of the Friday after Thanksgiving, an official state holiday, a list of questions prepared by Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval of Los Angeles. The questions were solely about the decision that allows this application to go through and that we were to discuss at the All Party Meeting the next Monday.
You see, there were two decisions proposed in this matter: one by the assigned commissioner and one by the administrative law judge in this matter. Judge Maribeth Bushey denied the entire application in a Proposed Decision. The Alternate Proposed Decision by Assigned Commissioner Timothy Alan Simon took out the 2007 fires (Witch, Guejito, and Rice) but allows SDG&E to collect on future fires with some conditions.
The questions were about those conditions, which involve inverse condemnation lawsuits and a CPUC determination of fault regarding fires ignited by SDG&E. They are complicated legal matters that we thought the CPUC should ask itself — not us or the other parties. We answered as best we could and told the assembled commissioners that, as the only grassroots organization in this fight and the only representative of San Diego County residents, we know that granting this application would be a disaster. Why? Because what would SDG&E executives care about planning and paying for expensive fire safety systems if they are indemnified by ratepayers in the future for uninsured costs of fire catastrophes the utility ignites with its equipment? Pretty simple to see the moral hazard built into this application, which the CPUC would help to further if they vote WEBA out.
Alternatively, if WEBA is denied, and if SDG&E can’t prevail on a more difficult “Z-factor” backup application, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will be spending a lot more on fire safety, because they know they will have to pay for all of the costs of fires it starts — even uninsured costs. Why uninsured? SDG&E says the insurance is too expensive to buy enough of it, even though we are charged for their insurance costs. But the more important question is why is the insurance expensive? Give you three reasons: Witch, Guejito, and Rice fires.
Sometimes you feel like they are shooting fish in a barrel and you are the fish. At least that’s the way we felt when NO ONE asked questions about the consequences of WEBA and NO commissioner talked about the judge’s Proposed Decision or its consequences.
What did happen was lots of talk about, in our minds, how to fix the decision that gives SDG&E a bigger hand in your pocket. While we hope that this was not deliberate, we are scratching our heads to this day trying to figure out why a commissioner would send out mandated questions to a group of folks fighting for and against this application for three years and script the meeting, which is not recorded by a court reporter, to talk only about only the decision that gives the utility at least something of what it wants.
And HO HO HO! While Commissioner Simon was requested at the All Party Meeting to add a CPUC “reasonableness review” to his Alternate Decision (when the CPUC supposedly would take up the matter of whether SDG&E was at fault for starting a catastrophic fire), there’s also plenty of pressure by SDG&E on Commissioner Simon to put the 2007 fires back into his decision. Double whammy Christmas cheer, especially for Ramonans who lost their homes and all of their possessions in the 2007 Witch Fire.
But there is something you can do. You did it before and got the Public Participation Hearing on this application in San Diego back in April attended by some 800 folks. You can do it again. Email the CPUC Commissioners: President Michael Peevey (email@example.com), Commissioner Timothy Alan Simon (firstname.lastname@example.org), Commissioner Catherine Sandoval (email@example.com), Commissioner Mike Floria (firstname.lastname@example.org), Commissioner Mark Ferron (email@example.com).
You should also call. It is too quiet on the 5th Floor of the CPUC’s San Francisco office. General number is: 415-703-2782. Ask for a commissioner’s office. You can talk to all five offices this way.
Tell them you do not want to pay for more fires in the future started by the SDG&E monopoly. You do not want to pay a penny for the 2007 fires — ever. You do want them to vote WEBA DOWN on Dec. 20. And you can wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, too.
Diane Conklin, spokesperson for the Mussey Grade Road Alliance, has been fighting this application before the California Utilities Commission for three years.