PUC chief says he had qualms about San Onofre cost-apportioning deal

PUC president had qualms about a deal apportioning costs of closing San Onofre nuclear plant

The state's top utilities regulator said Monday he had qualms about a deal to apportion the costs of closing the giant San Onofre nuclear power plant but voted for it anyway.

Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker said he joined fellow commissioners in a unanimous vote in November to approve the legal settlement.

The decision saddled Southern California residential and business ratepayers with $3.3 billion in costs, while two utilities, Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., were on the hook for only $1.4 billion.

"I struggled with that decision," Picker told members of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee at an oversight hearing Monday. "Maybe it was the best I could make with the information I had at the time."

What the record did not show, Picker conceded, was any reference to a March 2013 energy industry junket in Warsaw, Poland, at which then PUC President Michael Peevey discussed San Onofre with an executive of Southern California Edison. Peevey retired Dec. 31 after 12 years as PUC president.

Edison owns the nuclear plant along with SDG&E, its minority partner. The two reactors were shut down in January 2012 because of a radioactive leak. The utility opted for permanent closure in June 2013 after concluding that defective steam generators could not be fixed.

A now-infamous memo written on stationery from Warsaw's Bristol Hotel set down the outline of potential San Onofre settlement that was largely dictated by Peevey.

It was seized with a search warrant by the state attorney general's office from Peevey's house in January. The inventory of items taken listed "RSG Notes," referring to notes about the "replacement steam generators" installed at San Onofre.

In February, Edison filed documents with the PUC, confirming that the Warsaw meeting took place. The utility said it made the much-belated disclosure after concluding that the discussion may have violated commission rules against meetings with only one party in a pending legal case.

Opponents of the settlement have argued that the note is evidence that Peevey and Edison executives participated in a "backroom deal" that hit ratepayers with most of the San Onofre shutdown costs.

Picker declined to discuss the memo's appropriateness when asked by committee members about the Warsaw meeting between Edison Vice President Stephen Pickett and Peevey.

The PUC president said he would defer to investigators for the California attorney general's office and U.S. Department of Justice.

"I'm going to have to depend on them to tell us about any effective misdeeds," he said.


Twitter: @marclifsher

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