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CPUC to Host Thursday Hearing on SDG&E’s Wildfire Cost Plan

The commission wants to hear from ratepayers about SDG&E's attempt to ask them to pay for uninsured costs from the 2007 – and future – wildfires.

SDG&E ratepayers in Coronado are welcome Thursday to tell the California Public Utilities Commission what they think about —past and future.

The commission will hold a public hearing for ratepayers throughout the region at the Al Bahr Shriners Memorial Auditorium, 5440 Kearny Mesa Road, San Diego, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The CPUC is making a special trip, as such hearings are usually held in San Francisco.

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

Emergency gencies 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 that paid claims to property owners. The utility's insurance did not cover all of the costs incurred.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob will ask regulators to reject the proposal by SDG&E to force ratepayers to shoulder these costs and others from future wildfires. 

The  supervisor, who represents communities hardest hit by the wildfires, said in a news release that 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 violated safety rules.

“SDG&E’s plan to stick ratepayers with the bill for future fires is bad public policy,” Jacob stated.

In a 2011 letter to the CPUC, Jacob asked that the plan be given a public airing locally instead of in San Francisco, where the CPUC is based.

“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 about SDG&E at the hearing may be compromised.

“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 local activist, Diane Conklin, said all ratepayers should be concerned about the future costs they could be saddled with should SDG&E prevail.

"This public hearing is about more than the $594 million for SDG&E's uninsured 2007 fire costs," she said. "It's about the billions future generations would have to pay for uninsured costs of future fires SDG&E ignites.”  

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