SDG&E customers could pay for 2007 wildfires lawsuits - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

SDG&E customers could pay for 2007 wildfires lawsuits

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - San Diego Gas & Electric announced Friday it filed a request with the California Public Utilities Commission to allow the utility to figure legal settlements from the 2007 wildfires into the rates it charges customers.

SDG&E settled around 2,500 lawsuits stemming from the blazes, the most damaging of which were started by sparks from power lines during strong Santa Ana winds.

Most of the $2.4 billion in settlement payments was covered by liability insurance and recoveries from third parties. In its filing, SDG&E proposed to have shareholders bear $42 million of the remaining costs, and customers $379 million -- spread out over six years.

The result, according to the utility, is the typical customer would see a monthly bill increase by $1.70.

"We have gone to great lengths to minimize the impact to our customers by successfully settling these lawsuits rather than taking them to trial, which would have been significantly more costly," said Lee Schavrien, chief administrative officer for SDG&E.

"We are in the final stages of this proceeding, and after eight years, we believe that, as a company, a community and a region, we are much better prepared for a future fire emergency."

It could take a year and a half or longer for customers to see an impact to their bills, if SDG&E's request is approved. The CPUC will go through a long review and public comment process, after which the utility will be given a chance to respond.

The company said it doesn't expect a final ruling by the commission until the first quarter of 2017.

When SDG&E's plans first came to light last month, county Supervisor Dianne Jacob called the proposal "outrageous" and "offensive" to residents who lost homes because of the utility's mistakes.

SDG&E said it has installed 170 weather stations around its service territory -- San Diego County and southern Orange County -- to be prepared for the next major Santa Ana windstorm.

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