Diablo Canyon warning issued while higher PG&E bills loom
SAN FRANCISCO — PG&E bills are headed higher by $1.65 a month, state regulators decided Thursday, the same day a consumer group warned that the embattled utility is seeking even higher bills to cover costs to decommission the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.
The state Public Utilities Commission on Thursday voted to approve a settlement involving 15 parties, including PG&E, that enables the utility to raise gas and electricity bills by 1 percent. As of early March, the average PG&E monthly utility bill was $165.10.
Separately, a consumer group, The Utility Reform Network, issued alerts Thursday evening that PG&E is seeking meetings with several commissioners from the powerful PUC. TURN warned that PG&E seeks to coax a favorable ruling from the state agency that would overturn a PUC judge’s proposal. The result: PG&E would be able to harvest more money from ratepayers to finance the decommissioning of Diablo Canyon.
“PG&E is attempting to circumvent the judge’s proposal and jam through an immediate rate increase,” said Mark Toney, TURN’s executive director.
San Francisco-based PG&E, TURN claimed, is seeking meetings with several PUC commissioners in a quest to gain $100 million in rate increases that the PUC judge had blocked in a recent proposal. The rate increases would be used to help bankroll the retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. PG&E believes that it has correctly predicted the costs of ceasing operations at the nuclear complex.
“The communications we intend to have with commissioner advisors are in full compliance with PUC rules,” said Blair Jones, a PG&E spokesman. “We continue to believe that our forecast is the best estimate of the cost to decommission the facility and believe the PUC should approve it in support of the state’s requirements to fully fund decommissioning expenses.”
The embattled utility, which is a convicted felon after being sentenced on criminal charges for its illegal actions before and after a fatal explosion in San Bruno, wants to meet with staffers for commissioners Carla Peterson, Liane Randolph, Clifford Rechtschaffen and Martha Guzman Aceves.
“Issues related to the proposed decision in PG&E’s 2015 Nuclear Decommissioning Cost Triennial Proceeding” are the primary topic of the private meetings, according to advice letters issued by PG&E this week and on Thursday.
The meetings are slated to occur next week, less than three months after Geisha Williams, the new chief executive officer of PG&E, took over as the utility’s top boss.
“While TURN worked with the state Legislature to enact new laws limiting PG&E’s ability to meet privately with regulators, PG&E continues to seek opportunities to use private meetings with commissioners as a substitute for the public process,” Toney said.
A combination of PG&E’s shoddy maintenance and flawed record keeping, along with the PUC’s cozy ties to PG&E amid a culture of lazy oversight of the utility were the primary causes of the San Bruno disaster, federal investigators have determined.
“PG&E is fully committed to decommissioning Diablo Canyon in a responsible manner,” Jones said. “The forecast we put forward takes into account key environmental and safety requirements, and is well supported by industry benchmarking, best practices and experience.”
The Diablo Canyon meetings came to light soon after the PUC decision on Thursday to authorize more revenue for PG&E and higher bills for its customers. The PUC decision increases the revenue PG&E can collect by 1.1 percent.
“The settlement agreement we approved today provides the necessary funds to allow PG&E to operate its electric and gas distribution systems safely and reliably,” PUC President Michael Picker said.
PG&E noted that its current average monthly bill of $165.10 was still well below the nationwide typical monthly utility bill of $174.03. PG&E has come under fire after a winter during which a number of customers complained of huge spikes in their gas bills.
“Customer bills vary and are dependent on a number of variables, most notably individual customer usage,” PG&E said in a prepared release.