Ruling adds to case against San Onofre settlement

san.onofreA judicial ruling last week slamming Southern California Edison adds to pressure on the California Public Utilities Commission to abandon a $4.7 billion deal it cut last year with Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric over the cost of shutting down the San Onofre nuclear plant. The facility, which is owned 80 percent by Edison and 20 percent by SDG&E, had to be closed in January 2012 because of dangerous defects in the steam generators needed to operate its two reactors safely.

The deal requires 70 percent of shutdown costs to be borne by ratepayers. It has drawn intense questions in the past year as evidence amassed of a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours relationship between longtime California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey and Edison, SDG&E and the state’s third investor-owned utility, Pacific Gas & Electric. Emails obtained from the PUC show Peevey frequently linking beneficial regulatory actions with the utilities taking actions he approved, including donating money to fight a 2010 initiative that would have scrapped AB32, the state’s landmark 2006 law forcing a shift to cleaner but costlier energy.

Peevey left the PUC board in December but has remained in the news ever since because of federal and state criminal investigations of his actions as the state’s top utility regulator. The most damning revelation came in February, when documents were discovered that showed the framework for the San Onofre bailout was established in an improper, never-disclosed 2013 meeting in a Warsaw, Poland, hotel room between Peevey and an Edison executive.

This meeting and other undisclosed communications between PUC officials and utility executives led Administrative Law Judge Melanie Darling last week to order a $16.7 million fine against Edison. The edict needs to be approved by the PUC — Darling works for the PUC, an example of the tidy way that regulators and utilities operate in California — but that is considered pro forma.

The fine is seen by some observers as a confirmation of the seriousness of the ethical failings on display in the Edison-PUC back-room relationship. It is certain to trigger fresh interest in the Legislature in adopting PUC reforms.

Six were approved in the most recent session, only to be vetoed three weeks ago by Gov. Jerry Brown on the grounds that they were an “unworkable” mish-mash of changes. The vetoes irked Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, the Lakewood Democrat who is slated to become speaker later this year and who has expressed extreme dismay over how the PUC has acted.

But the fine is considered irrelevant by the consumer advocates and trial lawyers who are the PUC’s loudest critics, given how much Edison will save because ratepayers will have to pay $3.3 billion of the $4.7 billion needed to safely shutter San Onofre.

MikeAguirreMike Aguirre, the former San Diego city attorney, suggested the administrative law judge’s recent hearings on Edison’s relationship with Peevey and the PUC were kabuki — a staged show to prop up the status quo.

“With one hand the CPUC is giving Edison $3.3 billion, with the other hand they’re taking back some extra change,” Aguirre told the Los Angeles Times. “This is all cosmetic.”

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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