While state and federal criminal investigators pour over emails between Southern California Edison officials and members of the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) about the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, an administrative judge ruled on Wednesday that the utility violated important communication regulations at least 10 times.
Judge Melanie M. Darling’s 49-page ruling (pdf) said Edison illegally used backchannel communications to discuss public matters with the PUC concerning who was going to pay for the $4.7-billion cost of closing San Onofre in 2013. Customers got stuck with $3.3 billion of it and investors skated.
The emails in question, between March 26, 2013, and June 17, 2014, are related to a meeting in Warsaw, Poland, between then-PUC President Michael Peevey and Edison executive Stephen Pickett at which they discussed a framework for settlement. Those kind of “ex-parte” meetings are illegal.
After the meeting became known, the PUC and Edison denied anything of substance was determined. But other e-mails and notes Pickett took revealed that wasn’t true.
It wasn’t the only off-the-record gathering between Pickett and Peevey. Judge Darling wrote of another meeting between the two:
“Mr. Pickett has described a dinner with President Peevey on April 16, 2013 as ‘social.’ However, according to an email, Mr. Pickett scheduled a meeting with a senior SCE attorney immediately after the dinner. This is suggestive that substantive topics were covered which necessitated review by SCE’s counsel.”
Pickett and another Edison executive, Ronald Litzinger, subsequently gave statements to the commission about their roles in the setting of settlement terms “which I find may reasonably by viewed as misleading the Commission,” Judge Darling wrote.
Litzinger was asked under oath at a May 14, 2014, PUC hearing on the proposed settlement if he had “ex-parte” meetings with commissioners while talks were underway and he said no. His subsequent testimony during her proceedings did not disclose any meetings. The judge said he did it twice.
In June, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a party to the San Onofre settlement, asked that the deal be reopened because, “Had Edison disclosed these communications in a timely manner, the information might have had an impact on settlement negotiations.”
San Onofre closed in January 2012 after a leak of radioactive steam was discovered. Subsequent testing found hundreds of eroded steam tubes, damaged by vibration caused by new steam generators. Edison blamed manufacturer Mitsubishi, which blamed computer problems and bad math for the misdesigned equipment. There is evidence that both knew the design was problematic.