By Diane Conklin
What will it take for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to deny San Diego Gas & Electric’s request that you and I pay for their fires? I have thought a lot about this question and have come to this conclusion: It will take the people of San Diego County, thousands of them, to email, call, write, and participate in the process.
And one of the most important and most accessible ways to participate is to join with neighbors and friends and “Come on down” to the April 5th public hearing and tell the commission yourself what you think of this plan.
Now it’s bad enough that SDG&E wants us, its customers, to pay for its uninsured wildfire costs in the future (read forever), but it has also added into the mix $594 million they have paid for the 2007 fires for uninsured costs. This is a strange strategy because SDG&E has claimed all along at the commission — read the last two and a half years — that its insurance problem stemmed from the 2007 fires. That is, they say their insurance companies don’t want to insure them like they used to (by the way we pay for their insurance, too). But what kind of insurance problem did they have before the 2007 fires? Their own problem. They obviously didn’t buy enough insurance.
So, naturally, because they didn’t see the problem coming (though they should have) and because they didn’t buy enough insurance (though they should have) and because they now have to pay $594 million (a number that has grown over a hundred million dollars from earlier last year) out of their own deep SEMPRA Energy pockets, they say you should pay it — about $300 per household.
And believe you me, SEMPRA (which owns SDG&E) and SDG&E itself plan for you to pay, and pay, and pay for their fire mistakes. This scheme they’ve cooked up — called the Wildfire Expense Balancing Account — will mean, if approved by the CPUC, that you will even pay when they are in the wrong. That’s how SDG&E wrote it.
So why do they think that they will get away with this? I’ve thought lots about that too and here’s what I’ve come to: They think they will get away with this because you don’t care, you can’t go, you have work, you have plans, it’s too hard, you don’t know the issues, and — finally — even if you come, you may be told what you can and cannot say.
Why? Because the assigned commissioner (one of five on the CPUC) wrote a ruling saying that in this meeting he is allowing the public to comment on whether the uninsured 2007 fires costs should be included in the WEBA mechanism. Not about the entire application on the table for you to pay and pay and pay ad infinitum into the future. Nope. You are supposed to talk about the 2007 fires.
But that would be a big mistake.
Why? Because if the 2007 uninsured fire bill ends up being hundreds of millions of dollars charged to you, you can bet your boots that the future fires into infinity will cost you, your family, your burned out neighbors, and your larger community much, much more. Why?
Because why would SDG&E care about starting fires if you are going to pay for them? What safety precautions would they take, other than minimal precautions, because they have a blank check from you? And, meanwhile, you and yours, me and mine, everyone in the backcountry will see their beloved mountains and meadows, homes and communities burned over and over and over because SDG&E won’t worry — but you should.
So, I guess it’s clear that you should go. Now what should you talk about? You might want to talk about how everyone should be responsible for their conduct, and that includes corporations. When a business succeeds, the investors should profit, but when it makes mistakes, investors should pay — not customers. That we don’t want SDG&E causing more fires in the backcountry, so this plan is bad because it will lead to less incentive for them to take care and not ignite fires. That a corporation cannot say it takes responsibility and then not take responsibility by asking customers to foot the bill.
The Mussey Grade Road Alliance fought hard over a long time for this public hearing for you. Please don’t waste this opportunity to stand up for yourself, your neighbors, your community and do come on down to this hearing Thursday, April 5, at either 2 to 5 p.m. or 6 to 10 p.m. at the Al Bahr Shriners Center, 5440 Kearny Mesa Road. I hope to see you there and, while I will not be able to speak, according to the rules, I will be ever so happy to hear your side of the story.
Ramona resident Diane Conklin is the spokesperson for the Mussey Grade Road Alliance. The alliance has been a participant in the WEBA proceeding since its inception in 2009 and opposes the application.