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Ratepayers out of the fire, for now

SAN DIEGO — The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously to deny SDG&E’s proposal to recoup the costs of the 2007 wildfires from ratepayers. 

The CPUC’s decision was based on the notion that SDG&E had not proven the proposed rate hikes were reasonable.

But the fight is not over.

The ruling allows SDG&E to enter a new filing with the commission to recover its losses through a rate increase at a future time.

In a statement, Stephanie Donovan, senior communications director for SDG&E said they believed the Commission reached a reasonable compromise that gives SDG&E the opportunity to continue to make its case for rate recovery.

Recently elected San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts said he was pleased that the CPUC made the right decision.

“My opinion is that you don’t punish the ratepayers for your errors,” he said. “I think that SDG&E is going to have to figure out another way to fund this liability issue that they have.”

The 2007 wildfires, which included the Witch Creek, Guejito and Rice fires, burned over 1,000 homes, killed two people, and injured 40 firefighters.

The CPUC’s investigation determined that all three fires were linked to SDG&E power lines.

SDG&E has paid out about $1.9 billion in claims related to the 2007 wildfires so far, according to Donovan. At the time of the wildfires, SDG&E had $1.1 billion in liability insurance.

There are still 600 outstanding cases related to the wildfires, and SDG&E will not know the final costs until these cases have been resolved, according to Donovan.

SDG&E first proposed to recover the costs of the fires from ratepayers in 2009. The case has gone back and forth with the CPUC over the past several years, and SDG&E has received heavy opposition from organizations including The Utility Reform Network and the Mussey Grade Road Alliance.

Prior to the meeting CPUC Commissioner Timothy Simon introduced an alternate decision that would have authorized SDG&E to recover 90 percent of the wildfire costs not covered by insurance from ratepayers; but withdrew his proposal before the vote.