Recent news accounts report that a City audit, released in early April, details problems in the City’s policies for verifying incoming bills from utilities. The audit was, in part, triggered by the accidental 2013 discovery that the City was paying for 3,712 “phantom” streetlights. Four years later the City is still working with SDG&E to validate the proper amounts to be paid and to secure refunds for any overpayment.
The auditor’s report recommends, and the City has agreed, to centralize and streamline how its own utility payments are managed. To which UCAN responds with a hearty “hear, hear.”
To see San Diego Union Tribunes Article Click Here
To see San Diego Readers Article Click Here
To see San Diego City's Audit Click Here
UCAN has its own experience working with the City, not with how they pay their own utility bills, but with how they bill others for city services. For example, UCAN’s Fraud Squad has received customer complaints from City water and sewer customers, detailing recurring problems with billing policies, both followed and ignored, as well as undocumented “practices” that can land customers in hot water. These problems arise at both the Public Utilities Department and City Treasurer’s office, as well as at the intersection between the two (past due accounts), causing unnecessary confusion, and in some cases, consumer hardships.
UCAN has been in ongoing discussions for over a year to identify the billing policy errors that result in such hardships and that have required protracted efforts to resolve. With individual water and sewer billing issues, our Fraud Squad generally receives cooperation from the Public Utility Department, and we are encouraged that they have met with UCAN personnel, listened to our concerns and have agreed to incorporate several UCAN suggested revisions into their policy manual.
While UCAN agrees wholeheartedly that an audit is necessary to address how the City pays its utility bills, we are also working hard to press for improvements in how the City issues and handles utility bills.
Dear UCAN Friends and Supporters,
When San Diego’s City Council last approved a water rate increase, the City’s water department only presented one rate option for the City Council to consider, using information and reports from experts who either worked for the water department or were hired by them. If the Council had the advice of an independent rate consultant who advocated for the lowest possible rates for safe and reliable service, the City Council might have had a second alternative to consider.
Since late last year, UCAN has been working with the Council’s Environment Committee and the City’s Independent Budget Analyst (IBA), advocating that the City hire an independent water rate expert to provide the Council and the IBA with independent expert advice. Our efforts are paying off. In the Environment Committee, Councilman Scott Sherman made a motion, approved unanimously, asking that the City Council approve the use of an independent water rate consultant to review the water departments’ next cost of service study and rate design. We are awaiting action from the full City Council. Click Here to view the City’s Environment Committee action on this issue (minutes, item #4).
Below is a sampling of the other cases UCAN is currently working on. Also, UCAN is planning a fundraising event for early fall. We will be providing more information in a future email to our members.
Utility Consumers’ Action Network
UNEXPECTEDLY, UCAN SUPPORTS SDG&E’S PIPELINE PROPOSAL
SDG&E filed in late 2015 an application proposing to build a new gas transmission pipeline. SDG&E’s proposal would take a nearly 70-year-old gas pipeline out of transmission service, which would let SDG&E avoid having to pressure test this old line. Initially, UCAN protested SDG&E’s application wanting this pipeline pressure tested before SDG&E was authorized to build a new one. However, after UCAN’s gas pipeline safety expert examined all the data, reports and testimony submitted, she advised that SDG&E’s proposal deserves support. UCAN’s expert concluded that pressure testing might cause substantial damage and that for safety and reliability reasons this pipeline should be taken out of service as soon as practicable. She also advised that a new pipeline should be built to make sure that there is enough pipeline capacity to supply SDG&E gas customers. Despite our initial opposition, we are supporting SDG&E’s proposal to build a new gas transmission pipeline. Click here for UCAN’s pipeline testimony.
SDG&E Customers Should Not Pay for SDG&E’s Uninsured Wildfire Costs
SDG&E wants CPUC permission to raise electric rates to recover $379 Million in uninsured costs from the 2007 wildfires ignited by SDG&E equipment. SDG&E’s testimony has claimed that the October 2007 Santa Ana winds and weather conditions were extreme and that these fires were ignited and spread under extraordinary circumstances beyond SDG&E’s control. In hearings held at the CPUC earlier this year, UCAN presented our own weather experts who showed that at the time of ignition the weather conditions were not as extreme as SDG&E claimed and they rebuffed SDG&E’s attempt to use the weather as an excuse for their system igniting the wildfires. Briefs in this case were recently filed and we are waiting for a CPUC decision. Click here to read UCAN’s brief refuting SDG&E’s Weather claims.
California’s legislature has established goals that by 2030 the state will produce 50% of its electricity from renewable energy sources and achieve a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels. To help meet these goals California’s utilities have proposed projects seeking to electrify the transportation sector. SDG&E has proposed six priority projects and one large standard review project. While UCAN is currently examining the cost and reasonableness of each of these projects, we are concerned that they want to overspend for the priority projects and use ratepayer money so they can own electric vehicle charging equipment for their large standard review project. Click here to read more about the issues and UCAN’s position.
ENSURING SAFETY IN A TIMELY MANNER
The Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) of the CPUC has requested that the Commission modify or repeal certain safety regulations. SED claims that some utilities are interpreting the current regulations in a way to avoid timely addressing safety issues. UCAN has a long history of supporting efforts to improve safety and reliability and we are participating in this important safety proceeding. Click here to read more about the issues and UCAN’s position.
UCAN’S FRAUD SQUAD OFFERS FREE HELP TO INDIVIDUAL UTILITY CUSTOMERS
UCAN provides free individual help to our members and to the public with utility issues. We help ratepayers from wrongful utility billing charges and often help customers maintain or restore service. If you have a billing issue, service dispute or have received a shut off notice, UCAN’s Fraud Squad can often help. Give us a call at (619) 696-6966 or fill out an online request for assistance form.
San Diego Gas & Electric Company for Authorization to Recover Costs Related to the 2007 Southern California Wildfires Recorded in Wildfire Expense Memorandum Account (WEMA)
Filed September 25, 2015
San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) is seeking $379 million in uninsured related cost related to the 2007 wildfires which were caused by SDG&E equipment. In this application, SDG&E is seeking a reasonableness review for their expenses that resulted from fires ignited by their own utility lines in 2007. Several of the issues that need to be examined concern how SDG&E’s equipment caused the fires and whether SDG&E exercised prudence in the operation of their utility prior to the fires igniting. In SDG&E’s application, they note their reasonableness in their litigation strategy in settling the wildfire lawsuits. This aspect of examination only focuses on SDG&E’s conduct after the fires ignited. UCAN believes that the primary area of inquiry is whether SDG&E was imprudent, in the operation of their utility by failing to maintain their system such that the fires were started in the first place. UCAN, therefore, protests SDG&E’s application in this matter.
Update: Commission voted November 30, 2017 in favor of the Proposed Decsion. SDG&E cannot collect $379 million from their ratepayers.
Link to the Docket Card