Diablo Canyon Costs Warning Issued While Higher PG&E Bills Loom

SAN FRANCISCO — PG&E customers’ bills are headed higher by an average of $1.65 a month, state regulators decided Thursday, the same day a consumer group warned that the utility is seeking even higher bills to cover costs for decommissioning the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

Separately, a consumer group, The Utility Reform Network, issued alerts Thursday evening that PG&E is seeking meetings with several commissioners from the state’s powerful PUC in pursuit of a favorable ruling from the agency.

The utility wants a ruling that would overturn a PUC judge’s recent proposal, thereby allowing PG&E to implement $100 million in rate increases that the judge’s proposal had blocked, according to TURN. The rate increases for consumers that PG&E seeks would help bankroll the retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, it said.

“PG&E is attempting to circumvent the judge’s proposal and jam through an immediate rate increase,” said Mark Toney, TURN’s executive director.

PG&E maintains it has correctly projected the costs of ceasing operations at the nuclear complex.

“The communications we intend to have with commissioner advisers are in full compliance with PUC rules,” said Blair Jones, a PG&E spokesman. “We continue to believe that our forecast is the best estimate of the cost to decommission the facility and believe the PUC should approve it in support of the state’s requirements to fully fund decommissioning expenses.”

The utility, which is a convicted felon after being sentenced on criminal charges for its actions before and after a fatal pipeline explosion in San Bruno, wants to meet with staffers for PUC commissioners Carla Peterson, Liane Randolph, Clifford Rechtschaffen and Martha Guzman Aceves.

“Issues related to the proposed decision in PG&E’s 2015 Nuclear Decommissioning Cost Triennial Proceeding” are the primary topic of the private meetings, according to advice letters issued by PG&E this week and on Thursday.

The meetings are slated to occur next week, less than three months after Geisha Williams, the new chief executive officer of PG&E, took over as the utility’s top boss.

“While TURN worked with the state Legislature to enact new laws limiting PG&E’s ability to meet privately with regulators, PG&E continues to seek opportunities to use private meetings with commissioners as a substitute for the public process,” Toney said.

A combination of PG&E’s shoddy maintenance and flawed record keeping, along with the PUC’s cozy ties to PG&E amid a culture of lax oversight of the utility, were the primary causes of the San Bruno disaster, federal investigators have determined.

The utility said it wants the additional money to ensure it safely retires the nuclear plant.

“PG&E is fully committed to decommissioning Diablo Canyon in a responsible manner,” Jones said. “The forecast we put forward takes into account key environmental and safety requirements and is well supported by industry benchmarking, best practices and experience.”

The Diablo Canyon meetings came to light soon after the PUC decision Thursday to authorize more revenue for PG&E and higher bills for its customers. The PUC decision increases the revenue PG&E can collect by 1.1 percent.

“The settlement agreement we approved today provides the necessary funds to allow PG&E to operate its electric and gas distribution systems safely and reliably,” PUC President Michael Picker said.

PG&E noted that its current average monthly bill of $165.10 is still below the nationwide typical monthly utility bill of $174.03. PG&E has come under fire after a winter during which a number of customers complained of huge spikes in their gas bills.

“Customer bills vary and are dependent on a number of variables, most notably individual customer usage,” PG&E said in a prepared release.