It has been three years since a settlement agreement was reached over the costs of shutting down the San Onofre nuclear plant, but many questions remain.
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station’s shutdown in 2012 and decommissioning in 2013 was precipitated by the failure of replacement steam generators, resulting in a minor radioactive leak. A substantial debate ensued over how much of the estimated $4.7 billion in costs for replacement power, utility investments and ongoing maintenance would be borne by ratepayers, and how much would be borne by the plant’s owners, majority owner Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, which holds a minority stake.
A settlement was ultimately proposed in March 2014, and finalized by the California Public Utilities Commission in November of that year, that called for ratepayers to be responsible for $3.3 billion (70 percent) of the price tag.
Still more controversy then unfolded over revelations of a March 2013 meeting between former California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey and then-Edison Executive Vice President Stephen Pickett that took place during an international energy conference in a luxury hotel in Warsaw, Poland. During the meeting, Pickett used hotel stationary to jot down an outline of a potential deal to resolve the shutdown issues, a framework that was similar to the settlement that was ultimately adopted. Many were outraged when the secret meeting came to light in 2015, and Edison was slapped with a $16.7 million fine — still a relatively minor amount given the sums involved in the deal — for failing to disclose it.
San Diego attorney Mike Aguirre, who previously served as the city attorney for San Diego, called the settlement agreement a “travesty of justice,” and later filed a lawsuit over the deal and the refusal of the PUC and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to release 63 emails between PUC President Michael Picker and the governor’s office during the time the settlement agreement was being put together in 2013. Many suspect that the emails might shed some light on the (possibly untoward) dealings with regard to the settlement, and whether the Brown administration was involved.
In light of these developments, the PUC ultimately agreed to reopen the settlement, and the Aguirre lawsuit is ongoing.
The PUC claims that the emails are exempt from public open record laws because they relate to the agency’s internal decision-making process and because Brown’s role as governor means the communications are privileged. But critics contend that they may be directly related to the public’s business, and thus should be a matter of public record.
At the very least, the actions of the PUC and Gov. Brown’s office to stonewall over the release of the communications creates the air of malfeasance. With billions of dollars of the public’s money at stake, if there is no evidence of wrongdoing, Brown or the PUC should be happy to release the emails. And if there is evidence of misconduct, it is all the more important that the agencies be forced to turn over the documents in the public interest. (Los Angeles Daily News, 8/16/2017)