East County News Service
September 29, 2015 (San Diego)—San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) on Friday asked the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to allow the company to charge ratepayers for 90% of its remaining costs to settle the 2,500 lawsuits from the 2007 firestorms. SDG&E faced $4 billion in claims arising from the fires, but settle most cases for $2.4 billion.
Most of that was covered by the company’s liability insurance or recoveries from third parties. SDG&E now wants its shareholders to pay just 10% ($42 million) with the remaining 90% to be passed on to ratepayers. If approved, SDG&E proposes to spread out the remaining $379 million over six years, which it estimates would raise monthly bills less than $1.70 for a typical residential customer using 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month.
By contrast, a poll of East County Californian newspaper readers found that 100% believe SDG&E and its shareholders, not ratepayers, should bear responsibility for the wildfire settlement costs.
Lee Schavrien, chief administrative officer for SDG&E, states, “We have gone to great lengths to minimize the impact to our customers by successfully settling these lawsuits rather than taking them to trial, which would have been significantly more costly.”
At least one case remains unsettled, by a plaintiff who say she wants to take her case to trial and have evidence admitted in a publicly accessible records. Dr. Christine Ross has advised ECM that she is currently seeking new legal counsel to represent her at trial. Ross, a veterinarian, contends that the fires were caused by a dangerous design flaw in SDG&E lines that has not been corrected. She wants to have an expert witness, Ed Clark, present testimony in court. Clark is the author of Circle the Wagons SDG&E: The Perfect Corporate Cover-Up.
Clark is an electrical installation expert who formerly worked for a major utility company and has been hired as an expert witness by SDG&E in the past. SDG&E has repeatedly denied his allegations.
SDG&E contends it has taken steps to improve safety including installing over 170 weather stations, the largest and most concentrated weather network in the nation, SDG&E states in a press release. Each circuit in high-risk fire threat zones in the backcountry has at least one weather station to provide wind speed, temperature and humidity every 10 minutes to evaluate impact of weather on system operation.
Steve Vanderburg, senior meteorologist for the utility company, says Santa Ana winds in 2007 near where the Witch Creek fire started were blowing at “more than 90 miles per hour—that’s almost as strong as a Category 2 hurricane.”
A CPUC investigation faulted SDG&E lines, along with Cox Cable, for causing some of the most devastating 2007 wildfires although the company has never admitted fault. SDG&E notes that other factors beyond its control, notably the Santa Ana winds, also played a “major role” in the ignition and spread of the fires.
The CPUC is expected to make a final decision on the proposal in the first quarter of 2017.
Attorney Mike Aguirre has sent a public records request to the CPUC asking for all correspondence with SDG&E and its officials regarding passing along costs of the 2007 wildfires to ratepayers.
The 2007 fires killed two people and destroyed over 1,300 homes, sparking evacuation of a half million people and burning hundreds of thousands of acres across our region.