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PG&E, Consumer Group Spar Over Emails at Rate Hearing

A utility consumer watchdog group won a partial victory Monday in its attempt to hold up an ongoing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) natural gas pipeline and storage rate case until the utility turns over more of the emails it has revealed over the past four weeks showing communications violations with state regulators, some of which were centered on the gas case.

In a prehearing conference before a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) administrative law judge (ALJ), PG&E was ordered to try and reach agreement with The Utility Reform Network (TURN), which is requesting a long list of additional email communications pertaining to the $1.29 billion gas case.

"If no agreement is reached, she will rule on our motions to compel [turning over the documents]," said a spokesperson for the San Francisco-based consumer group. "In response to PG&E's complaints, we have narrowed our data request; no ruling [by the ALJ] was made today."

At the CPUC proceeding, TURN Legal Director Thomas Long requested that the CPUC put PG&E's rate request "on hold until all secret communications between  the commission and PG&E have been revealed." Part of that request is for an alleged email between CPUC President Michael Peevey and a now fired PG&E regulatory executive that references an "understanding" related to the gas pipeline/storage rate proceeding.

TURN's revised data request seeks any "written or oral communications" between regulators, their advisers and key staff and named executives at PG&E, including the three who were fired (see Daily GPI, Sept. 16) and the three most senior officers in the company, from Dec. 19, 2013 to present, on the gas rate case, and it seeks emails between the same parties from April 18, 2011 to Dec. 19, 2013, related to any matters on gas transmission or storage operations at PG&E.

In his opening remarks to ALJ Yip-Kikugawa, Long said "the credibility of any decision in this [gas rate] case depends on full disclosure of private communications between PG&E and the CPUC staff related to this case."

From the emails that PG&E has self-reported in two filings to the CPUC (see Daily GPI, Oct. 7), Long said the CPUC has "more than sufficient basis to suspect that PG&E has engaged in other secret communications related to its gas transmission and storage operations designed to give it an improper advantage."

In its request for the additional disclosures by PG&E, TURN said it wants to determine whether there are other instances in which "PG&E sought to improperly interfere with the commission staff's judgment and prerogatives on matters related to this case." The filing called evidence on this matter "highly relevant" to the ongoing gas/storage rate case, which is just getting started.

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