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Edison faces $16.7-million fine over unreported talks with regulators

Edison faces $16.7-million fine over unreported talks with regulators

A judge proposed a $16.7-million fine against Southern California Edison for failing to report talks the utility had with regulators over the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant.

(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

A state administrative law judge has proposed a $16.7-million fine against Southern California Edison for failing to report talks that utility representatives had with regulators over the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant.

The ruling by Administrative Law Judge Melanie Darling is subject to final approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Maureen Brown, an Edison spokeswoman, said the utility was reviewing the ruling.

Edison has come under fire since revelations that officials, agents or attorneys at the utility engaged in 10 unreported communications with one or more commissioners or their personal advisors. The talks included a meeting at a swanky hotel in Warsaw, Poland.

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In her ruling Monday, Darling said the fine was based on evidence supporting eight violations of rules governing communications with regulators. The talks, Darling said, related to the payment of costs surrounding the January 2012 shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant.

Edison closed 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 utilities commission. 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.

Consumer advocates criticized the fine as too small.

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“With one hand the CPUC is giving Edison $3.3 billion, with the other hand they’re taking back some extra change,” said Michael Aguirre, a San Diego lawyer who has been one of the most vocal critics of Edison’s handling of the nuclear plant closure. “This is all cosmetic.”

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 meeting at an energy-industry junket in Warsaw.

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, when they were filed as part of 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 meeting. But later, the judge noted, Pickett said in an email that he was “working” on San Onofre at the dinner meeting with Peevey.

For more energy news, follow Ivan Penn on Twitter: @ivanlpenn.

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