San Onofre Closure Costs Case Reassigned

Under a settlement, ratepayers are expected to pay more than 70 percent of the bill, while utility shareholders will pay the rest

San Diegans already pay the nation's highest utility rates. And for all too long, they’ve been on the hook for the lion’s share of the astronomical shutdown costs for the failed nuclear power plant at San Onofre.

The lamb’s share is owed by investors of the companies that own the ill-fated facility — Southern California Edison, 80 percent; and San Diego Gas & Electric, 20 percent.

But a request is pending for a re-hearing of the financial liabilities assessed by the California Public Utilities Commission.

And the commissioner who originally handled the proceedings has been replaced, with the case extended until May 30th.

It’s been nearly two years since the San Onofre station closed – the result of a radiation leak traced to defective replacement steam generators.

Late Monday, CPUC’s chief administrative law judge, Karen V. Clopton, issued an order reassigning the agency’s investigative case from Commissioner Michael Florio to colleague Catherine Sandoval.

"What they're doing is reviving the case from the dead and bringing it forward with a new commissioner to hopefully give it a fresh eye — and an honest eye,” said San Diego attorney Maria Severson. “And that's what the ratepayers can be hopeful for."

Severson has intervened in the CPUC case with her law partner Michael Aguirre, arguing that the controversial settlement formula is grossly unfair — and that the machinations behind it were unethical.

More than 70 percent ($3.3 billion) of the fiscal burden stemming from the $4.7 billion debacle targets customers of SDG&E and SoCal Edison.

"In charging the ratepayers without finishing the proceedings is really a taking of their money — taking of money out of their pockets without just compensation," Severson said in an interview Tuesday.

And the ratepayers have been screaming 'fraud' ever since, accusing the CPUC of favoring SDG&E and SoCal Edison investors.

The CPUC has come under fire from outraged state lawmakers, and its former chairman Michael Peevey is under criminal investigation on suspicion of improper dealings with SoCal Edison.

The agency’s new chairman Michael Picker is taking heat for sponsoring a farewell tribute dinner for Peevey benefiting UC Berkeley's public policy school — which has since rejected the donations.

Outside the downtown headquarters of Sempra Energy — SDG&E's parent company — during the noon hour Tuesday, local ratepayers were asked for their thoughts on the prospect of covering most of the San Onofre losses, instead of the utilities’ shareholders.

"We shouldn't have to pay for that; they should pay because they're the stockholders,” said a woman named Lori, who declined to give her last name. “They make more money than we do. Why should they reap the cream of the crop and we are the ones that have to pay for it? Hell, no!”

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this posting incorrectly stated that the re-assignment of the case put the terms of the CPUC financial settlement on hold, and extended the timeline for the proceedings. NBC 7 regrets the errors.)

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