California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Administrative Law Judge John Wong yesterday (March 29) posted his tentative decision in the San Diego Gas & Electric general rate case, which has been dragging on since December of 2010. Fasten your seat belt: For a typical all-electric residential SDGE customer using 500 kilowatt hours per month, "the customer's electric rates would go up about $6.55 per month, a 7.7% increase in monthly rates," says the proposed decision, which was posted yesterday on the CPUC website. This increase will allow SDGE to operate its electric and natural gas transmission system safely and reliably at reasonable rates, according to the tentative, decision, which will go to the commission at a later date. REASONABLE? Among other things, the big increase "provides necessary monies to allow SDGE to trim trees and brush away from overhead electric lines to lessen the danger of wildfires," according to the judge. This is interesting, because SDGE's inability to do just that was blamed in part for the 2007 wildfires. SDGE tried to get its ratepayers to pick up the uninsured damages from that fire, but thus far has failed, partly because of local outrage. (However, don't be certain the company won't sneak that attempted customer-fleecing back before the CPUC, and get approval, when nobody is looking.
"It is gross that anybody would give SDGE a rate increase of that magnitude," says San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre, who fought the utility's attempt to stick ratepayers with costs of the fire for which the company was found responsible. He fears that the commission will "rubber stamp" Wong's recommendation. He points out that SDGE's rates are already among the highest in the nation, and the profits of parent Sempra are high among comparable utilities. The CPUC's main mission is to guarantee "high rates for the ratepayer, high dividends for the investors, excessive bonuses for the executives" as it falsely claims to regulate SDGE in the public interest, says Aguirre. He also finds it ironic that so-called watchdog groups will be filing for fat intervenor fees even as SDGE is likely to be granted these huge rate increases.