By Karen Brainard
Proponents for a public hearing on San Diego Gas and Electric’s wildfire recovery cost plan are pushing for a hearing before a Feb. 17 deadline but have not received a response from the state public utility commission, despite growing support from ratepayers, organizations and lawmakers.
California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Administrative Law Judge Maribeth Bushey has set Feb. 17 as the deadline for parties to file briefs on SDG&E’s application to establish a Wildfire Expense Balancing Account (WEBA). The account would be a mechanism for SDG&E to record and recover costs from the 2007 wildfires, along with future wildfires.
Mussey Grade Road Alliance Spokesperson Diane Conklin said the account will lead to SDG&E increasing rates to recoup $463.9 million for the utility’s uninsured costs related to the 2007 wildfires.
Conklin wants the public participation hearing to be held in San Diego before the briefs are due so the transcripts can be included in the briefs. A public hearing held after the briefs are filed would be less important in terms of the commission’s decision on the WEBA, said Conklin.
CPUC has held public hearings recently in the San Diego area on other issues, including an SDG&E substation proposal in Jacumba, noted Conklin.
“What’s different about this?” she asked.
Conklin said she first requested a public hearing about 18 months ago at a pre-hearing conference in September 2010 on SDG&E’s application. At the January evidentiary hearings in San Francisco, she filed a motion for a hearing and requested a ruling by Feb. 1.
Since that motion, letters in support of a hearing in San Diego have been written by County Supervisor Dianne Jacob to CPUC Commissioner Timothy Simon and by District 39 State Senator Christine Kehoe to CPUC President Michael Peevey. Several utility advocacy organizations, a group of lawyers representing wildfire victims, and SDG&E customers have requested a public hearing.
“They’re not representing the people, they’re just representing the utility,” Conklin said of the commission.
SDG&E says a public hearing is not necessary at this time because the utility is only seeking approval for a balancing account and would have to go back to the commission before recovering expenses from ratepayers, said the utility’s spokesperson, Stephanie Donovan. SDG&E is not opposed to a public hearing when or if it files for cost-recovery of litigation-related expenses beyond what was covered by insurance and third-party settlements, she said.
Others say the public needs to have their say now.
Kehoe said in her letter to the CPUC: “It is only appropriate that as the CPUC decides whether local ratepayers should pay the costs of decisions made by SDG&E that led to settlement agreements for losses and damage during the three 2007 wildfires, that the public’s voice be heard on this matter through a local public hearing.”
Conklin said SDG&E customers have to realize they will not be paying for the wildfire expenses as a one-time deal.
“We’ll be paying over and over,” she said, noting everyone uses electricity. “Every business will pass on the costs to the consumer.”
Conklin encourages SDG&E customers to call Commissioner Simon’s office at 415-703-1407 to request a public hearing.