Utility Watchdog in San Diego

Keeping the doors open, the lights on and the phones staffed by trained consumer advocates takes resources. And that’s just the day-to-day. Each time UCAN works on a major ratepayer case we engage both legal and subject matter experts to dissect the facts of the case in order to keep the utilities honest. The expense is substantial, but the payoff for ratepayers is enormous, so this is some of our most important work, benefitting every residential and small business ratepayer in San Diego County.

UCAN seeks to maintain a diverse funding portfolio consisting of four major funding sources: our members, the CPUC, grants, Cy Pres Awards, and Legacy Gifts.

Membership Dues

You, our members, are our lifeblood and the reason why we are here. We have maintained a special relationship with members since UCAN’s earliest days in grassroots consumer advocacy over 30 years ago. Standing up to SDG&E is truly a David vs Goliath scenario, but with your help we can level the playing field. We’re proud to have members who have been supporting us now for decades.

UCAN members can tell you that they don’t get a discount shopping card or a lot of special perks and freebies for being members, but each year they keep supporting our work. So why commit to supporting UCAN as a member each year?

  • Becoming a member of UCAN means that you support reasonably priced, safe, and universally available utilities, both for yourself and for the rest of our community.
  • Your membership, whether you contribute $5 a year or $50 a month, helps to increase our capacity to hire experts and more robustly advocate on your behalf.
  • UCAN membership helps to keep you informed on utility issues through our newsletter. We believe that one of the best ways to prevent utilities from taking advantage of customers is by keeping ratepayers informed about what they’re up to. UCAN does our best to keep our membership informed of utility related developments through our free quarterly newsletter (link).

Become a member (link) and help us continue our support.

Grants

In addition to our advocacy on behalf of ratepayers in proceedings before the CPUC, UCAN is actively engaged in many other areas of consumer advocacy. Among these are consumer education, billing dispute resolution, and preventing utility shut-offs. Our work in these capacities is unique in Southern California and we regularly receive calls from San Diego County, Imperial County, and Orange County as well as calls from consumers in places as far away as Indiana. While many of these individuals find us through our website or other means, we also receive referrals from a wide variety of agencies including Legal Aid, 211, Elder Law, as well as various unions, legal groups, and other agencies who contact us with utility concerns which their members are facing. These services are provided without cost and often/typically/generally serve individuals who would be unable to navigate these situations without intervention.

To fund these important programs we rely on grants as well as member donations. It takes time and money to train and staff our ACE Team (link) and enable them to perform this invaluable service.

Intervenor Compensation

When UCAN advocates for SDG&E ratepayers (like you) in front of the CPUC, we can be reimbursed for our time and expenses by a type of funding known as Intervenor Compensation. If UCAN’s advocacy makes a “substantial contribution” to the CPUC’s decision, the CPUC provides for awards of “intervenor compensation” for ratepayer advocates.

A good example is the most recent General Rate Case completed with SEMPRA, the parent company of both San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas. UCAN, alongside other ratepayer advocacy groups, succeeded in getting the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to reduce proposed rate increases by 57% or a whopping $270 million for 2012 alone. UCAN’s awarded “intervenor compensation” covers thousands of hours of work amounting to $1.1 million. This number is substantial, but is under one half of one percent of the savings we helped to deliver. Effectively UCAN received less than $1 for every $200 of savings we helped to deliver. Now that’s a great deal for ratepayers!

Intervenor Compensation makes up the largest piece of UCAN’s funding portfolio and without it we would be unable to advocate as effectively to keep SDG&E and other utility prices lower. However, securing this funding can be a complicated exercise. When UCAN requests compensation, we have to demonstrate not only that our efforts had a material impact on reducing rates, but that the costs and time incurred were reasonable and did not duplicate the efforts of other advocates who weighed in on the same case. Because compensation awards are ultimately paid by the utilities, they are also able to use their ample resources to review and dispute our compensation claims. (Despite the utilities' objections, a recent audit of the Intervenor Compensation Program actually established that it is well-run and effectively does keep utility rates in check. See Audit Vindicates PUC Intervenor Compensation Program and Auditor Gives High Marks to PUC Consumer Support Program Disliked by Utilities and Corporations.)

The net impact of this system is that UCAN has to work with intervenor compensation, but we cannot rely on it exclusively. Payment is not guaranteed, can be adjusted downward, and can arrive up to a year after the case has been decided (sometimes as late as three years after our work was performed). In order to maintain a basic operating budget that supports work on new rate cases – often while awaiting compensation on completed ones – UCAN has to pursue additional funding sources. For more information on Intervenor Compensation, you can read more about how UCAN works with the CPUC.

Cy Pres Awards

When money that was set aside by the court for a specific purpose or for the benefit of a specific group of people, like in a class action lawsuit, is left over it can be distributed through what is called a Cy Pres Award (French for “as near as possible”). As long as an organization’s charter is deemed “as near as possible” to the original intent of the award, they may be considered as recipients under California state law. In many class action suits proposed cy pres recipients are specified up front as part of the legislation, especially when it is known ahead of time that distributing 100% of the proposed settlement to individual class members is not possible.

UCAN has received and successfully utilized Cy Pres funding in the past, and based on our unique position in Southern California as a consumer advocate with focuses on telecommunications, electrical utilities, gas utilities, energy generation, and water utilities, we continue to be a candidate for such dispersals. Inquiries regarding UCAN’s eligibility or potential candidacy for available funds can be made This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Click here for out most recent Cy Pres Award.

Legacy Gifts

UCAN has maintained a special relationship with our members over our more than thirty years of service and advocacy. Many of our members have generously supported us for more than twenty years and want to continue to support our mission and advocacy into the future. One great way to do this is through a legacy gift. By naming UCAN in your will or trust, you can help to ensure that our strong advocacy continues into the future and keeps protecting your children and grandchildren from SDG&E rate hikes, utility scams, and other nefarious activities. For more information please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..