San Diego power firm's plan gets contrasting opinions

An administrative law judge and a member of the Public Utilities Commission offered different recommendations Tuesday about a controversial plan by San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to shut off power to fire-prone backcountry areas during high winds.

The full commission will consider the contrasting recommendations at its Sept. 10 meeting, officials said.

PUC member Timothy Alan Simon proposed that the utility be allowed to shut off power, although he attached several conditions. Among other things, he wants SDG&E; to consult with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection before shutting off power and provide a 12-hour warning before taking that step.

But Administrative Law Judge Timothy Kenney recommended that the PUC turn down the SDG&E; plan as too risky.

SDG&E; wants the authority to shut off power to rural areas of up to 178,000 residents when the National Weather Service issues a red flag warning. But backcountry residents warn that they could be left helpless without power during critical periods.

SDG&E; devised the plan amid findings that downed lines caused three of the four wind-whipped brush fires in 2007 that destroyed thousands of structures and burned 200,000 acres. The utility has set aside up to $900 million to settle lawsuits and claims arising from those fires.

Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, praised Kenney for "recognizing that the current plan is an ill-crafted gamble that would put lives, property and businesses at great risk."


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