The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) held an emotional public participation hearing in Escondido last week about San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) request to charge customers $379 million for costs following the 2007 wildfires. On October 21, 2007, the Witch Fire was sparked by fallen SDG&E power lines in rural East San Diego County. That fire later merged with another blaze, the Guejito Fire, killing two people, charring tens of thousands of acres and destroying 1300 homes which burned down.
The hearing was attended by a diverse group of residents, businesses and organizations all united in their frustration and disbelief at SDG&E’s attempt to protect their profits at the expense of the communities they serve. Members of the North County Fire Protection District outlined the battle they faced as the wildfire ravaged throughout San Diego County, destroying everything in its path. Local victims expressed their devastation upon realizing that the blaze had completely decimated their personal and irreplaceable belongings.
While the hearing focused primarily on the devastating impact of the wildfires, many of those in attendance expressed hope for a future free from dangerous utility energy infrastructure. A number of Sullivan Solar Power clients, who were directly affected by the tragedy, outlined at the hearing how modern energy technologies such as solar power and energy storage could be used to replace SDG&E electrical equipment that pose a risk to their communities and urged SDG&E to support distributed generation so that future disasters can be avoided.
Daniel Sullivan, president and founder of Sullivan Solar Power, has expressed his frustration at the utility’s role and reaction concerning the 2007 wildfires. “Not only was the utility responsible for the loss of lives and for destroying hundreds of homes, they want electricity customers to pay for their fatal incompetence,” said Sullivan. “They want the public to bear a cost they shouldn’t have to bear so that their shareholders are free from any costs because of their negligence.”
SDG&E has outlined that the increase would cost the average ratepayer $1.67 more per month for the next six years, ensuring that shareholders of the utility are not held responsible for the impact of the wildfire. If SDG&E is successful, this would set a bad precedent and create the possibility that the utility will take bigger safety risks in the future if regulators allow ratepayers to bail them out. The CPUC are likely to issue their final decision later in 2017.
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