SDG&E again asks for 2007 fire cost reimbursement

Utility gets tongue-lashing from taxpayers at meeting

Downtown San Diego skyline during the 2007 wildfires
  • Downtown San Diego skyline during the 2007 wildfires

San Diego Gas & Electric in 2012 tried to get ratepayers to pick up the tab for uninsured costs of the 2007 fires, for which a unit of the California Public Utilities Commission blamed SDG&E's negligence. A utilities commissioner snuck in a phrase sticking the ratepayers with the cost, buried in a document having nothing to do with the 2007 fires. Two local activists caught the ruse, and an embarrassed commission had to turn down the request. A former utilities commission official chuckled and told me that they would be back.

Sure enough, this year, SDG&E is back, asking for ratepayers to pick up $379 million of the uninsured costs. That comes to $280 a household, says Diane Conklin of the Mussey Grade Alliance.

This afternoon (January 9), the utilities commission held a hearing on the question at the California Center for the Arts conference center in Escondido. More than 110 ratepayers from Ramona, Escondido, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Fallbrook, and Rancho Bernardo gave SDG&E a tongue-lashing.

They stressed that the utility caused the fires and there was no way ratepayers should cough up for management negligence. The people cited the concept of "moral hazard" — if the utility gets away with such an egregious cost-shifting, it won't be vigilant in the future, knowing the utilities commission will have ratepayers bail it out.

The people mentioned that some residents did not get 100 percent recovery and are now paying expensive insurance premiums, and "it's unconscionable that the utility is back," trying to pick ratepayers' pockets again, after being turned down in 2012, says Conklin. There is a second meeting this evening.

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I wonder what Visduh thinks about this?

hillclimber: I will bet we will hear from Visduh, and his comment will be enlightened. Best, Don Bauder

Big Utilities Rip Off Artists will wait until the collective publics' guard is down, then ram through another proposal intent on fleecing the ratepayers for their negligence.... You can set your watch to it. Another tactic is to funnel large amounts of campaign cash and favors into State and Federal elected officials campaign coffers and to get them to "look the other way". Isn't that what happened with the San Onofre Nuclear plant shutdown?!?!. Didn't the Governor's office and the State AG "look the other way" and didn't the Utilities and Consumer watchdogs have illegal private meetings in out of state hotels to "sell out the ratepayers" on close down costs for San Onofre?!?! Who is paying for that expensive shutdown?!?!

What about the Chargers Stadium fiasco UPDATE?! Local San Diego Media says Spanos, Da Mayor and others are having "secret, below the radar, hush, hush, meetings" to cobble together more corporate welfare from the local taxpayers for the Chargers/Spanos family?!?! They will wait for just the right timing(when people are preoccupied with other pressing issues) and then ram through another sweetheart corporate welfare subsidy deal that keeps the Spanos family slopping up the local taxpayers' gravy train for another generation of foolishness. It never ends...Corporate welfare artists are at it again tossing out even newer relatively recently built stadiums in Arlington and Atlanta for even newer, greater corporate welfare...

SportsFan0000: You describe exactly what SDG&E and the CPUC did. They lost in 2012 because Diane Conklin and Mike Aguirre caught a commissioner named Simon surreptitiously changing the wording of a document so that the commissioners could have granted SDG&E the multi-million dollar gift under the radar. Humiliated by the spotlight, the commission turned down SDG&E's corporate welfare scam, but people who had worked at the commission warned that the subject would come up again. It has.This time, the public was warned and screamed. Will it do any good? Who knows? The CPUC is not sensitive to public opinion and the system is rigged so that it doesn't have to be.

In re San Onofre: the grossly illegal meeting in a Polish hotel will go unpunished. Just wait and see.

You are right about the Chargers. The public does not want the city or city/county to subsidize a stadium for an out-of-town, billionaire family.But the business community wants it. Unless the public is willing to raise hell -- including, possibly, suing leadership if it tries to pull it off illegally -- the Chargers will get their massive subsidy, despite the city suffering from huge infrastructure and pension deficits. Best, Don Bauder

So, I'm just wondering, how many times will SDG&E go to the well, that is the Commission, to drink from their customer's wallet? Clearly, this is a case where stockholders must be responsible due to management's mismanagement. It's also clear, crossing your fingers hoping to avoid fire isn't a plan either, it was, and is, a disaster in the making.

I'm sure they will go to the well as many times as they can.

JustWondering: San Diego Gas & Electric's rates are the highest in the nation. At some point, the ratepayers will have had enough, and will rebel. Yesterday's meetings indicated that there is a lot of resentment in the community. Hopefully, SDG&E will be blocked from going to the well at some point. Best, Don Bauder

ImJustABill: Throughout these utility scandals -- San Bruno (PG&E), gas leakage (Sempra), decommissioning of San Onofre (Southern California Edison and SDG&E) -- Wall Street has blithely assumed that the CPUC would permit the utilities to charge whatever they wanted. Can this change? Not unless the people raise hell. Best, Don Bauder

Don, Did you see this?!

It Says "Trump was Bailed out of bankruptcy by Russian Crime Bosses" http://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/1/9/1618540/-Was-Donald-Trump-bailed-out-of-bankruptcy-by-Russia-crime-bosses

What is your take on this?!

SportsFan0000: I had not seen this until you sent it. I don't know if it is true. If it is, I would not be a bit surprised. Do you know how much of San Diego was built with mob money? If you don't, you haven't been reading my writings on this topic in the Reader. Do you want me to put it all together in still another column?

Do you know that a former "Mr. San Diego," C. Arnholt Smith, joined with mob money in some major projects, such as La Costa? Do you know that other parts of San Diego, Rancho Penasquitos and parts of Clairemont, for example, were financed with mob money? Best, Don Bauder

Yes Don! It would be great to see it all together in a new column. It is so relevant, insightful and helpful to remind me and other taxpayers of the sordid history of the place we call home San...make that Scam Diego...We won't see this sort of juicy stuff from Ken Kramer in his "About San Diego" TV and radio pieces...everything is always perfect in those pieces. We need to see the other sides so we can duct tape our wallets to our bodies or inside our safes so the local scammers won't get it. The Padres and Chargers corporate welfare scams are just another chapter in the wild, wild west of corporate welfare in San Diego. Heard/Read that there were some major fights with Developers on leapfrog development and various projects in the area. Heard/Read that a San Diego Councilwoman way back when was recalled for running on a no growth platform...getting elected....then switching sides...probably getting a "backroom deal from the developers she pledged to stop"...Her Voters turned right around and recalled her quickly....Lots of material to work with in San Diego...You could probably make it a series of columns...As you know, there are lots of newcomers in the area who have never seen, heard, read about the seedy business and development deals and manipulation of the Council and Mayor's office for decades by big time developers who ran this town for decades...Anyone who bucked them...was tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail.....In fact, didn't the downtown establishment also do that to Aguirre?!?!

SportsFan0000: Yes, San Diego's sordid past is not mentioned in polite company. I will write another one. Dirty Teamsters money built much of San Diego. I hope you have read my columns about mob money behind professional sports teams. This has been true of San Diego teams, too.

And San Diego County (and nearby counties) have been notorious mob hangouts. One, of course, was La Costa. The second (earlier) was Murrieta Hot Springs, which is in Riverside County, near San Diego County. Best, Don Bauder

another tried and true business plan, ask for much more than they want ( or deserve, depending on who is reading about it) and settle for less and make it sound like they are being fair.

Murphyjunk: That is exactly what utilities do. They ask for far more than they need. Groups like UCAN complain (and get paid generously as intervenors). The outrageous request is trimmed slightly. In the end, the utility gets more than it expected. Best, Don Bauder

This is the first time that I can remember any other Reader comment maker asking what I think. (And that's after I've posted over 5500(!) such comments since 2008.) Should I be flattered? The far more frequent reaction is someone telling me that I don't know anything, and should never comment.

Disclosure: I am a Sempra shareholder. I bought SDGE stock over two decades ago, after the Edison merger was rejected, but prior to the So Cal Gas merger that created Sempra. At the time I bought the stock, I was wary. Since then I've been satisfied with its growth and dividend stream.

Having said all the above, I also know that ever since the Arab oil embargo of 1973/4, when our economy was severely jolted, my pocket has been picked every month by SDGE. Not once was there ever a coherent explanation of why San Diego electric rates had to be the highest (or nearly the highest) in the nation, nor why that situation persists. It wasn't as if SDGE had a super-sharp electrical distribution system. They pay their employees very generously, far better for similar positions than just about any employer locally. In so doing, SDGE buys loyalty, or what passes for it, employees who keep their mouths shut.

We have a home that uses electricity for only those things for which there are no substitutes, except for our all-electric kitchen, which was not our choice. We have no central AC, and use gas for water heating, home heating, the clothes dryer, and an outdoor gas grill. So, we don't have a large electric bill. But I still resent the size of it and the rate per kilowatt hour.

Worse yet, here in Vista, we seem to get service that is not much more reliable than some spot in the third world. If the wind blows we have a power outage. If it rains, we have a power outage. If there's a full moon, we have a power outage (OK, I'm exaggerating.) So, what's the problem? If we pay these sky-high rates, shouldn't the electricity provider give us first-rate, first-world reliability? Yes, it should. So, why don't we get it? Mismanagement has to be the explanation.

If SDGE pulls this off in full or in part, it will send a signal to all the other utilities in the state that they can screw up, incur millions of dollars of preventable costs, and just pass them along to the rate payers. So, why bother to do things right? Why make sure your gas storage field in Porter Ranch won't leak? If they pull this off and get some relief, it will just enable more of their managers, along with the So Cal Edison managers and the PGE managers to sit back, laugh and scratch, and overpay themselves and their minions.

Final point: Those costs that Sempra wants to recover should have been expensed already. If they get that almost-$400 million back, it will be a windfall to shareholders.
I don't want it. Nobody associated with SDGE/Sempra deserves a cent.

Visduh...Why don't you go Solar. Prices have come down substantially. Depending on how much you use and if you are staying long term in your property, it could get you "off the grid"...Course, the utility is now trying to charge solar users a grid access and upkeep fee...What a SCAM!

SportsFan0000: Going solar is one of the best ways to whack the bottom line of utilities. San Diego is an ideal location for solar. SDG&E, of course, is trying to make solar so expensive that consumers won't install it. Best, Don Bauder

Based on what I can learn, I don't use enough electricity to bother with solar. That part of my comment wasn't emphasized. My son, who lives in a 45-year old house in central San Diego, does have solar. On hot days he needs to run the AC, and does that with the power that his panels generate. So, he pays nearly nothing for his use of the AC and his electric clothes dryer. Does it pay for him? You might say it does, but I've yet to be told just what the installation cost him. As a former financial analyst, what I want is "show me the money." When I can learn about that, maybe I'll change my mind. BTW, we've been in this same house for just about thirty years, and have no plans to leave. Plans can change, sometimes abruptly, and if solar means staying put, well, I don't think I can plan that far ahead.

BTW, in 1985 we did go "solar." That was a solar water heating system, and over the years I can't be sure that it really paid off, despite the state and federal tax credits that paid for half the cost. In the intervening years I've replaced the 80 gallon tank three times (they're not cheap), and had the absorbers in the panels renewed once, and have had to buy parts to keep the photovoltaic pump working. Did I come out ahead? I like to think so, but I can't be sure.

Visduh: It is difficult to get solar to pay off, and a conspiracy between the CPUC and utilities is making it harder for solar to pay off all the time. But long term, solar is the answer. Best, Don Bauder

Visduh: I knew we would get a perceptive essay from you. You have made a helluva lot of money on Sempra stock. The reason is that Sempra fleeces its customers to fatten its profits. SDG&E has the highest rates in the nation. That's one reason Sempra has a lofty stock. Best, Don Bauder

Don: Visduh should take those profits from his stock and install some solar panels.

After the electricity portion of my SDGE bill climbed above $300 a month it was time to do something. I live along the coast, installed 19 panels on my roof. Now I have a zero electricity bill and that includes my lap pool. With the Fed's 30% tax credit my ROI will be 💯% in about eight years. Of course that's not counting any SDGE rate increases which only accelerate my return.

JustWondering: Bill Powers, the engineer who knows utilities better than top utility managements do, and is frequently quoted in this column, has gone almost 100 percent solar at his home. Maybe he IS 100 percent now. Best, Don Bauder

Mike Murphy: Tough cookies? Maybe you can tell me what cookies are in my computer. Best, Don Bauder

Murphyjunk: Aren't there other demons in the computer frustrating me? Are the cookies the only villains? Best, Don Bauder

JustWondering: And you think I can understand that after only one reading? Best,Don Bauder

Well, it did take me a couple of time through it, and you're certainly not as slow as I am. Besides, your better half can always help you out.

JustWondering: She is not simply my better half. She is 99 percent. Best, Don Bauder

The Imperial Irrigation District supplies electricity to the eastern portion of the Coachella Valley (La Quinta, Indio, Thermal, etc) is ratepayer owned not government or investor owned. Their rates are 40% lower than Edison which supplies electricity to the Western part of the Valley (Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Palm Desert). Edison has summer rates, shoulder month rates and winter rates as well as tiered rates. The IID has one rate for all months at one rate. IID has the same new equipment and the employees are will paid with good benefits. The difference is profit and greed.

AlexClarke: Now that is really interesting. It's more information showing that the most expensive way to get gas and electricity is to be stuck with an investors-owned utility. Best, Don Bauder

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