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By Nadin Abbott

Photos Tom Abbott

October 2, 2012 (San Diego) — The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) held two meetings on October 2 at the Bahr Shrine Auditorium in Kearny Mesa. The first session had about 50 members of the public attending, ratepayers who came from all over Southern California, including San Diego’s East County.

The common theme from residents, expressed well by Carol Jahnkow from Encinitas, was, “Why should rate payers pay for Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric’s (SDG&E) mistakes?”

Paul Dosik of El Cajon, a retired Electrical Engineer, said that the “untested design should have gotten regulatory approval.” The rate payers should not pay for it.

A gentleman from Santee stated, “I am opposed to any back charge.” He also said that both utilities are monopolies. Sempra Energy, the owner of SDG&E is investor owned and seeks profits for its shareholders.

John Fox of California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) made the same point. “Rate payers played no role in the decisions made by the utilities.” He added that the utilities have already collected $4.5 million since San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) went officially offline. This is part of the funds needed to safely decommission the plant.

The other common theme stated by many speakers is the high cost the utilities have imposed on Southern California ratepayers. Maris Brancheau told Commissioner Mike Florio and Administrative Judge Kevin Dudney that it is time to move away from these large energy behemoths. She also said “the CPUC is trying to push under the rug what they did.”

She also emphasized another point about the cost of power, since she is originally from Borrego Springs, one of the poorest areas of the county—and the hottest: “Borrego Springs people cannot afford to run the AC and people die.”

Echoing Brancheau was Michael Richard, Associate State Director of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), California Division, told Commissioner Florio that “general rate increases make it harder for members on fixed incomes.”

A few of the attendees were seniors on fixed incomes who confirmed that point.

Pete Hasapopoulos of the Sierra Club told the commissioner that the “surcharge is on it’s 20th month.” He urged, “Do not allow the subsidy to continue forever--immediately end the subsidy.” He added that since San Onofre has been offline SDG&E has tried to saddle the County residents with power infrastructure, such as Pio Pico, a gas-powered plant that he believes is not needed since solar is growing.

Elected officials speak

Before the meeting ECM talked with Assemblymember Toni Atkins of the 76th district. She said that she was coming “to talk about protecting the ratepayers.”

When she addressed the Commissioner in February of 2013 she “joined rate payer advocates in calling for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station or SONGS to immediately remove from the rate base for Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.” The reason for this was that SONGS stopped generating electricity in January of 2012. Therefore, ratepayers have been paying for power that they have not been receiving.

State Senator Marty Block sent Allison Don, his field representative. She told the Commissioner that it is time for Southern California Edison to be transparent, especially “with the premature retirement of SONGS.”

She talked about ratepayers paying fees on a station that was on life support, and continuing to pay for them. She echoed Atkins, saying that ratepayers “should cease to be charged.” She mentioned State Code 451, which requires “that rates are just and reasonable.” What the two utilities are doing is unjust, Atkins said.

Bruce Coons, candidate for San Diego City Mayor, came before the Commission. He first emphasized his early experience as a purchasing manager for a large corporation. In his view, like many of the speakers, the San Onofre problem was a mistake made by the company. He emphasized that in his view “the investors should not be made whole.”  He added, “They should take this loss and not make the ratepayer pay for it.”

Anger at both Media and the Commission

Pat Gar asked the Commission that the “next time you have a hearing, the local press cover it.” She suggested a press conference a few days before so the people are aware and make time to come to these hearings. She also told them that there is a rising disparity in incomes, partly because corporations are not made to pay for their mistakes. “You have an opportunity to make this right.”  (Note: ECM did publish prior notice of this hearing on our website and broadcast details on our radio show.)

Ray Lutz from Citizens Oversight in El Cajon echoed this. He reminded the CPUC that it mostly holds these evidentiary hearings in San Francisco, which makes it impossible for the average ratepayer to attend. It was obvious that Florio was not comfortable as Lutz continued to ask why were these meetings held away from the heart of the problem.

Lutz also emphasized that the ratepayers should not pay for the mistakes made by chiefly SCE. It is time to take the ratepayer into account, he argued.

The most heart breaking testimony came from Martha Sullivan, who told them that most of her career with the State was at the CPUC. Now that the shoe is on the other foot she now understands how hard it is for ratepayers to have their voices heard.

Her voice at times broke as she spoke, reminding the Commissioner that many a times she sat where Florio now did. She also told them that while she was filing for her pension, people still thanked her for still working for the people of California.

This was another moment where Florio looked very uncomfortable as she told them that she was sure they did not mean to, but “a thick callus has formed.”

The Utilities’ side

SDG&E had a media release at the hearing. In its public statement, the utility explained that “without SONGS, SDG&E had to buy power from other sources to meet our customers’ energy needs from February 2012 trough June 7, 2013 – the date the SCE announced its decision to retire the plant. The CPUC will determine at a later date whether customers should pay for these power costs.”

Moreover, SDG&E added regarding the recovery of costs, “The CPUC typically has allowed utilities to recover their sunk costs in power plants that have been taken out of service.”

ECM also talked with Maureen Brown, Media Spokesperson for SCE. She explained some of the process, and where they are. The plant is on land leased from the Navy since 1964, and is part of the Military reserve that comprises Camp Pendleton, she noted.

Part of the process right now is seeing what happens to some of the buildings that are not part of nuclear operations per se. These buildings are administrative office buildings and if the Navy takes them over, that will reduce some of the decommissioning cost.

The money in the Plant Decommissioning Fund has five trustees, three of whom are not company affiliated. These funds are invested, like in a 401K. Brown echoed SDG&E in saying customers have enjoyed emission free cheap power for 40 years.

That claim runs counter to the fact that SDG&E currently has the highest electricity charges in the U.S., however.

Brown explained that part of the problem was with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which used a computer program to simulate the rate of failure for the steam generator tubes. Despite using faulty code, in the end SCE is responsible as the operator for that failure. Right now the utility is “in talks with MHI to recover some of the costs.”

As to the nuclear wastes, there are two types, the low end, which are rags, cleaning cloths, mops, which are stored in facilities around the country. The fuel itself will require looking at dry cask systems.

Here is a fact sheet with details.

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