By Steve Johnson
PG&E on Friday agreed to pay the costs associated with the California Public Utilities Commission’s investigation of the Sept. 9 San Bruno natural gas explosion, but consumer advocates are girding for a possible bid by the utility to later have consumers pick up the tab.
In a filing with the regulatory agency, Pacific Gas & Electric agreed not only to reimburse the commission for its expenses in probing the disaster, which killed eight and destroyed 38 homes, but also “for the costs of any other commission investigation that stems from it.”
Commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said she couldn’t estimate what the agency’s costs have been so far or what they might total by the time the inquiry is complete. Another unanswered question is whether PG&E will ask to stick consumers with the investigative bill.
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Under a Feb. 24 order, the commission said it intends to later decide “whether PG&E ratepayers or shareholders, or both, should bear the costs,” but added that “we have seen no facts or circumstances to date to convince us that it is appropriate to charge PG&E ratepayers.”
Asked if PG&E might seek to have the public pay, the utility’s spokesman Joe Molica said only, “the commission will make a decision about costs at a later date.” However, any proposal to hand the tab to PG&E’s customers is likely to trigger a fight.
“Without having the benefit of seeing the arguments on each side of this issue, our gut is that the shareholders should pay the costs of this,” said Stephanie Chen, senior legal counsel of the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley group that advocates on behalf of the poor. “It’s not fair for ratepayers to pay.”