Escondido, CA

Escondido will host public hearings on SDG&E plan to charge customers for wildfire losses

State utility regulators will hold public hearings in San Diego County to collect testimony about a plan by San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to bill customers hundreds of millions of dollars in costs related to deadly wildfires nearly a decade ago.

Two hearings are scheduled January 9 at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido, one at 2 p.m. and one at 7 p.m.

The hearings will allow ratepayers and consumer advocates to testify on the utility’s request to charge customers $379 million in expenses leftover from the 2007 firestorm that ravaged San Diego County.

Three of those fires were caused by SDG&E power lines that were blown into vegetation, according to investigations. Two people died and more than 1,300 homes were destroyed by the Witch, Rice and Guejito fires in October 2007.

Investigations from the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that SDG&E failed to properly maintain the vegetation near the power lines.

“SDG&E’s failure to maintain clearances as required by General Order 95 directly led to the ignition of the Witch Fire,” the commission’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates said.

The office is seeking a change of venue when the commission considers the $379 million request — from the commission’s San Francisco headquarters to San Diego, where the fire victims are located. Utility officials opposed the request, which has yet to be ruled on by regulators.

SDG&E has not admitted negligence related to the wildfires. The company also has defended its application to recover $379 million from customers.

“The alleged involvement of SDG&E facilities in the ignitions of the three fires does not show that SDG&E acted unreasonably or imprudently,” utility lawyers told the commission.

The two public participation hearings come in advance of five days of evidentiary hearings later in January in San Francisco. A decision on the recovery request is expected later next year.

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