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San Diego Hearing Eyes SDG&E’s Potential Wildfire Cost Reimbursement

The California Public Utilities Commission will hear from ratepayers about SDG&E's plan to ask property owners to pay for uninsured costs from the 2007 and future wildfires.

SDG&E ratepayers will have a chance to tell the California Public Utilities Commission what they think about the local utility's plan to potentially charge property owners for the uninsured costs of wildfires—past and future.

The commission is due to hold a public hearing on the matter at the Al Bahr Shriners Memorial Auditorium in San Diego at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

SDG&E's poor equipment maintenance was found by the state to have caused the massive Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice Canyon fires, which together took the lives of two civilians, destroyed more than 1,300 homes, scorched more than 200,000 acres and injured at least 40 firefighters in 2007.

Firefighting agencies spent $18 million extinguishing the Witch Creek Fire alone. SDG&E settled with state regulators for $14.8 million . It also paid at least $920 million to insurance companies who had paid out to property owners. Its insurance did not cover all of the costs incurred.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob is set to ask state regulators to reject the proposal by SDG&E that would force ratepayers to shoulder the costs of the 2007 wildfires and others in the future, according to a news release from her office. 

The Supervisor, who represents communities hardest hit by the devastating 2007 wildfires, says the controversial cost shift would give SDG&E little incentive to maintain its electric grid. A report conducted by the Consumer Protection and Safety Division of the CPUC determined that in 2007 SDG&E had violated CPUC safety rules, according to the news release.

“SDG&E’s plan to stick ratepayers with the bill for future fires is bad public policy because it effectively gives SDG&E a free pass to ignore its infrastructure, which is exactly what the utility did before the 2007 wildfires,” Jacob stated. In a February 2011 letter to the CPUC, Jacob asked that the plan be given a public airing in San Diego instead of San Francisco where the CPUC is based. She has since praised the commission for its decision to travel to San Diego.

“No one understands more intimately than San Diegans the consequences of a utility ignoring its maintenance obligations,” Jacob said.

At the same time, Jacob warned that individuals speaking favorably of SDG&E at the public hearing may not be doing so voluntarily.

“I’ve witnessed representatives from non-profit organizations and other special interest groups travel many miles to speak glowingly of the utility," she stated. "Without exception, these groups had strong financial connections to SDG&E and were, I believe, prodded and scripted by the utility to attend and make comments."

Jacob urged the public to be alert to the potential for phony testimony at Thursday’s hearing. She said these groups should voluntarily disclose any financial contributions from SDG&E.

A Ramona group, to recoup costs from property owners.

"This public hearing is about more than the $594 million for SDG&E's uninsured 2007 fire costs," spokeswoman Diane Conklin told Patch on Wednesday. "It's about the billions future generations would have to pay for uninsured costs of future fires SDG&E ignites. People should feel free to exercise their First Amendment right to speak about being required to pay for both past and future fires caused by the monopoly utility San Diego Gas & Electric.  Folks should know they can make the difference if they show up and give the CPUC judge a piece of their mind."

A Beall April 05, 2012 at 05:11 PM
You note the time and location, but not a date for the hearing......
Things I Learned April 05, 2012 at 05:14 PM
"SDG&E ratepayers will have a chance on today..."
Kevin George April 05, 2012 at 05:15 PM
First sentence" on today" ????
Dennis Hull April 06, 2012 at 05:45 AM
My version reads "SDG&E ratepayers will have a chance to tell the California Public Utilities Commission what they think about the local utility's plan to potentially charge property owners for the uninsured costs of wildfires—past and future."
Julie Pendray April 06, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Headline originally was posted late Wednesday night after we received an evening news release, so it read "on Thursday." That was changed to "today" when Thursday morning rolled around, but the "on" was accidentally left in there. In the copy editing process, someone deleted "today." We apologize. The meeting was held today (Thursday) and the report is on Patch.

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