Warrant examines utilities commission, Edison meetings and UCLA grant funds

By Jeff McDonald and Ricky Young |
Dec. 29, 2015 – 5:00 p.m.

A state criminal investigation into the California Public Utilities Commission centers around former President Michael Peevey’s persistent intervention into the process to assign costs for the failure of the San Onofre nuclear plant, newly released court documents show.

Specifically, Peevey pushed the idea of plant owner Southern California Edison funding $25 million of greenhouse gas research at the University of California Los Angeles as part of the $4.7 billion settlement deal.

The power plant on San Diego County’s north coast closed amid a radiation leak in January 2012. A deal assigning 70 percent of premature closure costs to utility customers has since been repudiated by two of the consumer groups that negotiated it, amid revelations about undisclosed meetings between regulators and utility executives.

A sworn affidavit by an investigator for Attorney General Kamala Harris, unsealed last month, lays out the developing criminal case in detail for the first time.

The 18-page document says improper meetings were held, which might bring misdemeanor charges, but that a conspiracy to commit those misdemeanors could be considered a felony.

“The facts indicate that Peevey conspired to obstruct justice by illegally engaging in ex parte communications, concealed ex parte communications, and inappropriately interfered with the settlement process on behalf of California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA,” the document alleges. “Peevey executed this plan through back channel communications and exertion of pressure, in violation of CPUC ex parte rules, and in obstruction of the due administration of laws.”

The court document details Peevey’s efforts to win funding for UCLA and researcher Stephanie Pincetl, starting with an undisclosed March 2013 meeting in Warsaw, Poland, with an Edison executive. The affidavit argues that there was probable cause to believe that the executive, Stephen Pickett, conspired to engage in prohibited backchannel communications.

Peevey, who left the commission a year ago, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the commission. Edison officials cited a CPUC determination that the Warsaw meeting was permissible but should have been reported, which it eventually was.

Company spokeswoman Maureen Brown added, “The settlement, which the CPUC unanimously approved, was properly negotiated at arms’ length with consumer representatives, remains in the public interest and should not be rescinded.”

The court filing was signed by Special Agent Reye Diaz and reviewed by Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell. It was submitted Sept. 25 in support of a search of Pickett’s personal email account.

According to the document, the investigator interviewed Edison International President Ted Craver about Peevey’s efforts to secure Edison grants for UCLA.

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