Red Flag

By Jeff McDonald | May 25, 2016 – 9 p.m.

  • CPUC worked with utility on legal strategy during San Onofre investigation

Even as it was preparing to review a $4.7 billion deal settling costs for the failed San Onofre nuclear plant, the California Public Utilities Commission was working behind the scenes to draft and send subpoenas on behalf of plant owner Southern California Edison.

The legal demands for reams of technical documents and information were sent to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Japanese maker of replacement steam generators that brought down the twin reactors housed in domes on San Diego County’s north coast.

The close cooperation came as the commission was investigating the role of the utility and its vendor in the failure at the plant, raising the question of whether it was truly impartial.

Records obtained by The San Diego Union-Tribune show commission lawyers started their process with subpoenas drafted by Edison and repeatedly sought and received direction from the utility, collaborating on legal efforts.

“I understand … that you want to coordinate mailing of your subpoenas with ours so that we can synergize?” commission lawyer Elizabeth Dorman wrote to Edison’s attorney on March 12, 2014.

Later that day, she wrote, “Would you prefer that we send our subpoena ASAP rather than wait for you to finalize yours?”

The next day, Dorman asked the utility company for advice on how long Mitsubishi should be given to respond to the subpoena.

“30 days?” the Edison attorney suggested.

“That’s what I was thinking,” Dorman replied. “They can complain to the judge if they want more time.”

Later that month, a settlement deal was announced assigning ratepayers, not the utility companies, to pay 70 percent of the costs for the premature plant shutdown.

The settlement agreement has unraveled over the past two years, amid revelations that it took shape in undisclosed meetings between regulators and utility executives, rather than in a required public process. The utilities commission this month agreed to reopen the settlement for further consideration.

The commission is under criminal investigation for its close relationships with the companies it is entrusted to oversee, and the cooperation with Edison on Mitsubishi subpoenas was immediately seen by critics through that lens.

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