San Onofre

Under an agreement, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. ratepayers would pay $3.3 billion of the San Onofre shutdown costs, or 70%. Edison says the deal is “fair and reasonable.” (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times)

By Jeff McDonald
June 24, 2015

The San Francisco consumer group that helped broker the $4.7-billion deal dividing costs for the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant said Wednesday that it no longer supports the agreement and called on regulators to reopen talks.

In a five-page motion submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission, the Utility Reform Network said recent revelations of back channel communications between regulators and utility executives forced the organization to rethink its position.

The group hopes for a better deal for Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. ratepayers who were assigned to cover $3.3 billion of the shutdown costs, or 70%, even though Edison installed the faulty replacement steam generators that caused the January 2012 shutdown.

The filing is a major turnaround for TURN. The nonprofit defended the San Onofre deal for months, even as evidence mounted that the agreement was hatched during a secret 2013 meeting in Warsaw, Poland, between former commission President Michael Peevey and an Edison executive.

Notes jotted down at the meeting have become part of state and federal criminal investigations into possible favoritism of utility executives by the regulators entrusted to oversee them.

“TURN agrees that recent disclosures detailing extensive communications between SCE and CPUC decision-makers during the pendency of this proceeding are very troubling,” the filing states. “TURN was a good faith participant in the settlement negotiations, and was not aware of the Warsaw note, the private meeting, or any agreement between Mr. Peevey and SCE at any time before or during the extended settlement negotiations that led to the proposed settlement.”

The commission did not respond to questions Wednesday. Edison issued a statement saying it is disappointed in the TURN decision.

“The settlement it negotiated with consumer groups is fair and reasonable, was properly negotiated and is in the public interest,” Edison spokeswoman Maureen Brown said.

Lawmakers and other consumer groups have embraced the idea of reopening debate over how to resolve shutdown costs for San Onofre.

In April, Sen. Ben Hueso called for the San Onofre deal to be reconsidered, saying it was improperly lopsided in favor of utilities over ratepayers.

“I do not think the settlement should stand,” said Hueso, a San Diego Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications. “The process by which the settlement was developed — previously undisclosed private meetings half a world away — clearly is troubling.”

Two days later, the commission’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates — another party to the settlement — said ratepayers should get $648 million more from Edison and minority plant owner San Diego Gas & Electric. The office stopped short of saying the agreement should be reopened.

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