Utility Dive: CPUC On Track to Turn Ratepayers Into PG&E’s Piggy Bank

The CPUC has fast tracked an application by PG&E to increase residential rates $900 million dollars beginning in August by an average of 5-7%.  This is just one of many rate increases PG&E plans on foisting on its customers in the coming months and year.  PG&E would have the Commission approve their request for “interim” rates without any determination whether or not the requested rate increase is just or reasonable.  PG&E has also applied for the Commission to establish a new process for the regulated utilities to automatically increase rates with no review whatsoever every time a utility states that it has spent $100 million on certain expenses.  Such an automatic “interim” rate increase would flip the ratemaking process on its head and would rely on the word of private, for-profit companies like PG&E, now a two time convicted felon. read more

San Francisco Chronicle: CPUC Judge Approves Settlement with PG&E With Slightly Improved Terms over Proposed Sweetheart Deal

February 27, 2020

An Administrative Law Judge has issued a decision approving a settlement between CPUC staff and PG&E for the dozens of violations of law that PG&E committed that caused 19 fires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018.  This settlement includes illegal activity that resulted in the highly deadly and destructive Wine Country Fires and the Camp Fire, the most destructive fire in California history.  The decision modifies the sweetheart deal for PG&E that CPUC staff had originally agreed to that would have assessed $0 fine, let PG&E benefit from tax deductions for the supposed “penalties,” and otherwise let PG&E off with a mere slap on the wrist.  read more

San Diego Union Tribune: CPUC approves ratepayer bailout for future utility-caused fires

Oct. 24, 2019

“April Maurath Sommer, executive director of the Wild Tree Foundation, an environmental group based in the Bay Area, said the quick approval of safety certifications amounted to a ‘rubber stamp’ and criticized how the new law shifted the burden from utilities having to prove they acted responsibly onto customer advocates needing to show power companies acted negligently.  ‘It’s a David and Goliath situation now,’ Maurath Sommer said. ‘There’s an assumption of safety here that the utilities don’t deserve.'” -San Diego Union Tribune, Rob Nikolewski, California regulators approve funding for controversial wildfire law, Assembly Bill 1054 creates a $21 billion fund for fires caused by utility equipment read more

San Francisco Chronicle: CPUC Denies PG&E Opportunity for Ratepayer Bailout for Napa-Sonoma Fires

June 28, 2019

The CPUC has issued a decision approving a “stress test” methodology that SCE could use to get a ratepayer-funded bailout for the Thomas Fire even if it is deemed to have acted imprudently and caused the fire.  In an unexpected, but welcome, move, the CPUC prohibited PG&E for using this stress test  to recover costs from the Napa-Sonoma Fires. 

“‘This is a big blow for PG&E,’ said April Rose Maurath Sommer, the executive and legal director of the Wild Tree Foundation, which was involved in the regulatory proceedings. ‘That aspect of the decision is very good.’  She said the stress test could still potentially be used by Southern California Edison, whose equipment state investigators have said sparked the 2017 Thomas Fire.”  -San Francisco Chronicle, PG&E probably barred from new path for raising rates because of 2017 fires read more
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San Francisco Chronicle: Regulators race to give PG&E a path to raise rates for wildfire costs

April 22, 2019

Wild Tree Foundation is pushing back against California Public Utilities Commission efforts to approve a blueprint for a PG&E bailout for the Napa-Sonoma Fires.

“April Rose Maurath Sommer, the executive and legal director of Wild Tree Foundation, said “in an ideal world,” regulators would dismiss the proceeding. She thinks the stress test provision was included in 2018 legislation, SB901, to stave off a PG&E bankruptcy, which happened anyway.  “The only reason I can see that the commission is interested in pushing this proceeding so quickly and so aggressively is they consider it their role that they improve the outlook of PG&E for investors,” Maurath Sommer said. “The commission’s role is not to protect PG&E. It’s not to protect the utilities. It’s to protect the ratepayers.” -San Francisco Chronicle, Regulators race to give PG&E a path to raise rates for wildfire costs read more read more

Los Angles Times/San Diego Union Tribune: Mixed Reaction to Newsom’s Strike Force Report on California Wildfires

April 12, 2019

Governor Newsom’s Strike Force report on Wildfires and Climate Change: California’s Energy Future has some good ideas but a reversal of strict liability/inverse condemnation for utility-caused fires is not one of them.

“April Maurath Sommer, a longtime defender of inverse condemnation, said the doctrine does not need to be modified. Changing inverse condemnation “is a distraction,” said Maurath Sommer, the executive director of the Wild Tree Foundation, an environmental and consumer group based in the San Francisco Bay Area. “The utilities’ negligent practices have caused these fires and that is what we’re dealing with and that is what needs to be addressed.”- Los Angles Times/San Diego Union Tribune, Mixed Reaction to Newsom’s Strike Force Report on California Wildfires  read more read more