CPUC Can't Escape Fallout From San Onofre Shutdown

The California Public Utilities Commission is enduring a growing barrage of criticism from electricity customers and lawmakers.

Critics in both camps claim it's become beholden to private interests.

A glaring case in point? Ratepayers have disproportionately wound up on the hook for the failure of the San Onofre nuclear plant on San Diego County’s northern coastline.

The debate over whether Southern Californians got a fair shake in the decommissioning bailout just won't die down.

Under investigation by federal prosecutors and other agencies are CPUC proceedings and negotiations that led to shareholders dodging 70 percent of the $4.7 billion in shutdown costs.

Utility executives are holding out against providing key documents behind how the costs were divvied up.

The digital and paper trails stretch from San Onofre to CPUC headquarters in San Francisco and a resort hotel Warsaw, Poland -- binding CPUC commissioners with utility executives in a web of wheeling and dealing whose bottom line could cost a few million Southern Californians an average of $1,400.

Longtime former CPUC president Michael Peevey retired last December, shouldering a tainted legacy of leadership that's cast the CPUC's image into the shadows of doubt.

The late stages of his tenure trended downward in the wake of faulty steam generator snafus that took the life of the San Onofre facility, built in 1965 and expanded in 1982.

Peevey presided over a murky decommissioning and closure costs process that shoved most of the financial burden onto ratepayers of Southern California Edison, the plant’s majority owner, and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

SoCal Edison executives deny any wrongdoing in the drawn-out procedures involving them and the commission.

Local ratepayers interviewed by NBC 7 on Thursday offered responses ranging from straightforward, to cynical and comical.

"There's a lot of shady things that happen behind closed doors that we don't know about," said Poway resident Scott Swan.

“Not a fair deal -- if it’s owned privately, it should be paid for ” declared East Village resident Rhonda Mona. “In my private company if things go wrong, we have to pay for anything that happens … it’s the cost of doing business.”

Said Imperial Beach resident Rick Amos, facetiously: "Thank you for sharing this information with me. Because maybe I'll buy some stock in that company (laughter)."

On the serious side, while SoCal Edison coughed up some 300 documents demanded by the PUC, it withheld dozens more, citing attorney-client privilege.

Among them was what was listed as an "action plan" by crisis public relations specialist Mark Fabiani, a state-licensed attorney and longtime special counsel to the San Diego Chargers on stadium and relocation issues.

"What you have is a culture at the PUC where they serve the utilities, and not the ratepayers,” said Mia Severson, representing the Citizens Oversight Coalition. "Why doesn't the governor go and call for action to remove these people? There should be absolute intolerance of this type of behavior by these appointees.”

Evan Westrup, Gov. Brown’s press secretary ,responded Thursday with an email pointing to the governor’s recent appointment of the PUC's new president, Michael Picker, and commissioner Lianne Randolph.

"Both have deep experience and we’re confident the commission and the state will be well served,” Westrup said.

Meantime, without directly addressing Severson’s criticism of the CPUC, agency spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said the commission needed outside counsel because the state attorney general turned down a request for representation on grounds of "conflict of interest." 

Prosper said SoCal Edison’s limited release of documents will be reviewed for “compliance” with a CPUC order by an administrative law judge.

An motion is pending to declare the firm submission in violation, which could trigger undetermined sanctions.

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