A state administrative judge ruled Wednesday that Southern California Edison engaged in unreported, illegal communication regarding the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant for more than a year and now faces as much as $34 million in penalties.
Administrative law Judge Melanie Darling has given Edison until Aug. 20 to explain why it should not face penalties for the illegal communication with the members and staff of the California Public Utilities Commission from March 26, 2013, to June 17, 2014.
Edison officials on Wednesday said only, "We're reviewing the ruling."
In the judge's ruling, Darling found that Edison, its officers, agents or attorneys engaged in 10 unreported communications with one or more commissioners or their personal advisors. The communications, Darling said, related to the payment of costs related to the January 2012 shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant.
Edison shut down the plant after a small amount of radiation leaked in one of two replacement steam generators. The generators proved faulty after their installation in 2010 and 2011.
The utility permanently closed San Onofre in 2013.
The closure led to a settlement agreement approved by the PUC. Under the deal, the plant's owners, Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., would pay $1.4 billion in reactor closing costs; their customers were left on the hook for an additional $3.3 billion.
The judge's ruling stems from communication between former commission President Michael Peevey and Edison's then-executive vice president for external relations, Stephen Pickett, during a dinner meeting in Warsaw, Poland.
Notes from Pickett's meeting with Peevey, the judge said, indicated that they discussed how costs might be allocated in a settlement if San Onofre were to permanently close. The notes came to light in April 2015, when they were filed in connection with a federal lawsuit.
The judge called into question remarks by Edison's Pickett in an April 2015 statement in which he said he didn't recall "anything of substance" discussed with Peevey at the dinner. But later, the judge noted, Pickett said in an email that he was "working" on San Onofre at the dinner with Peevey.
In the ruling, Darling cited statements by Pickett and one other Edison executive in response to questions about any communications between Edison and the commission.
These remarks "may reasonably be viewed as misleading the commission" about the nature of the discussions during an investigation of the talks between Peevey and Pickett.
State law prohibits utilities from discussing cases with regulators outside of the formal hearing process.