Friday, October 31, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS



We keep paying for utility blunders

elias column sig

By
From page A8 | November 13, 2012 |

When a car company blunders by installing, say, a power window switch that might catch fire, it issues a recall and fixes – for free – as many as 2.5 million cars. Toyota issued precisely such a recall notice this fall, the company paying heavily for its mistake.

But when a utility company sees one of its gas pipelines blow up, killing eight and putting many more residents in a dense San Francisco suburb out of their homes, it seeks to have its customers pay for most of the fix that must follow. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is trying that right now.

Similarly, when other utilities see their nuclear power plant shuttered for most of a year because of a flawed part and a small radiation leak, with little chance of restarting anytime soon, they expect customers to keep right on paying as if nothing happened.

That’s what Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. have done since their San Onofre generating station shut down last Jan. 31, with customers paying $54 million a month, or $28 so far per person in their vast service areas. That’s $28 per person, not per customer household.

The good news is that besides federal authorities that supposedly assure utility safety, a state commission regulates rates. The Public Utilities Commission can quickly halt any plans big California utilities have to keep soaking their customers, to keep profiting from their own dangerous, sometimes disastrous mistakes. Now, after Edison and SDG&E kept soaking the customers for the more than nine months since the San Onofre station shut down, the PUC at last will take a look. It will soon “investigate,” with customers continuing to pay while that probe goes on.

But the PUC has been anything but a consumer watchdog under its current president, Michael Peevey – first appointed by ex-Gov. Gray Davis, reappointed by ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and kept on as president by current Gov. Jerry Brown. Peevey is a former president of SoCal Edison. You’re dreaming if you expect him to recuse himself from cases involving his old firm.

Under Peevey, the PUC has been a steadfast lap dog for utilities. This involves not only rates, but also approvals for huge solar thermal power plants now under construction in California deserts that require massive investments in hundreds of miles of new power transmission lines. Those billions will be added to the “rate base” of each utility company, meaning they not only get repaid by customers for their investments, but are assured of a “reasonable rate of return” on those investments for the next 20 years.

That means billions in guaranteed profits even if the solar plants don’t produce nearly what’s planned. Billions that would not accrue to them if the PUC instead encouraged putting solar photovoltaic panels on most buildings in the cities they serve. The electric output would likely be the same, but the cost for transmission lines would be next to nothing.

Is it any wonder the big utilities love big solar plants, even when they don’t own them?

Similarly, PG&E wants to profit from whatever it spends on fixing its hundreds of miles of gas transmission pipelines. Never mind that consumers made payments monthly for decades earmarked to assure safety and reliability of gas pipelines all over California. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded last year that – at least for PG&E – inspections and repairs have long been inadequate. So the money collected all those years plainly wasn’t used as it should have been.

Now the utility wants customers to pay 84 percent of the $2.2 billion it says it will spend to fix its pipelines. A PUC administrative law judge proposed instead that customers pay 55 percent. Chances are, the PUC will split the difference, with customers paying about 70 percent. And PG&E would likely get to put the full amount into its rate base, ensuring a $300 million profit over 20 years from its deadly negligence.

At the same time, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission probably won’t let even one of San Onofre’s two generators back online for many months, but it’s no sure thing the PUC will stop the consumer ripoff (as the majority owner, Edison operates the plant).

What’s more, even if Edison and SDG&E were suddenly told to stop collecting for operating the inoperative San Onofre (don’t bet on any such order coming soon), they’d keep the hundreds of millions they’ve already collected.

If all this seems absurd and wrong – giant companies profiting from their own dereliction – it is. But it’s not likely to change as long as there is no mechanism for shortening the five-year terms of utility commissioners and getting rid of those who act as tools of the companies they are supposed to regulate.

Thomas Elias is a California author. Reach him at tdelias@aol.com.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Real estate agent pens, produces movie

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

 
 
Dad finds passion creating set pieces for son’s shows

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Neighborhood candy hunts of the past

By Tony Wade | From Page: A2

 
Vintage Fair on tap at McBride Senior Center

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Candy from sky highlights North Texas Street event

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Fairfield police log: Oct. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Oct. 29, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

California eyes $500 billion in water spending

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Judge approves Stockton’s bankruptcy plan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Marine wants new charges in Iraq war crime tossed

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

 
Roseville officer accused of criminal threats

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

Poll: Democrats leading in all statewide races

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
Man charged with murder in SWAT officer shooting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Teen arrested in threat at Sacramento school

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

 
Police make arrest in slaying of Oakland mom

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Retrial in assault case over stray cat feeding

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 3 Comments

 
Missing California hunter roasted bugs, lizards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Pilot identified in California jet crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Lawsuit: Surgical gowns let diseases pass through

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Fearing Ebola? Doctors say get a flu shot

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Questions, answers about California’s Ebola policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Maine in standoff with nurse over Ebola safeguards

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Relatives suspected poisoning in family’s deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Pair convicted in secret $1.6 M Navy silencer deal

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Guard troops sent to site of Hawaii lava flow

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Terminally ill woman may postpone taking her life

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Man’s own dog helps police bust him on drug charge

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Israel closes Jerusalem holy site after shooting

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Fearing uprising, Iraq militants hunt ex-police

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Vatican admits Sistine Chapel frescoes ‘whitened’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10 | Gallery

 
Death penalty sought for trooper ambush suspect

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Opinion

 
Editorial Cartoons: Oct. 31, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
 
Man’s prosecution unwarranted

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 4 Comments

Are we safe now?

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 18 Comments

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Oct. 31, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Oct. 31, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

My husband sends texts filled with ‘dirty talk’ to an old flame

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
Horoscopes: Oct. 31, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

.

Entertainment

Jorge Garcia makes the most of ‘Hawaii Five-O’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Week in preview Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

Monica Potter wants to save her show ‘Parenthood’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Review: Jake Gyllenhaal, tightly coiled and creepy

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Exhibit on Paul Simon’s life to debut at Rock Hall

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
PBS touts 2013-14 ratings growth

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Reality TV show ‘Big Brother’ to debut in China

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
‘The View’ now under ABC News as further revamping

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Review: ‘Sleep’ a decidedly average psych thriller

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Entertainment calendar Oct. 31, 2014

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B4

Winter’s wife has blues listening to his new album

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

 
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell dies

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
.

Sports

 
 
Benicia fends off Vanden, 35-21

By Nick DeCicco | From Page: B7 | Gallery

New dynasty: Giants capture 3rd title in 5 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

 
Sonoma Raceway to host IndyCar Series finale in 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

Warriors exercise options on Barnes, Ezeli

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Mack making impact for Raiders even without sacks

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Bye week helps 49ers Vernon Davis’ recovery

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
This date in sports history for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Prep football capsules: Week 9

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B10

.

Business

Not so sweet: Chocolate prices are set to rise

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Apple CEO publicly acknowledges that he’s gay

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11, 1 Comment | Gallery

FTC accuses Gerber of false claim on baby formula

By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

 
.

Obituaries

Robert Louis Wright

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Oscar Lee Vezeau

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9