Still three months before it makes an official general rate case filing, Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric Co. is sparring a major utility consumer group over its plans to file for a $250.4 million increase in its base annual revenues. The utility notified the California Public Utilities Commission on Aug. 1 of its intention to file a general rate case by Dec.1 with an effective date in 2008.

The advance warning didn’t lessen the degree of criticism from Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), whose executive director, Michael Shames, questioned the need for the increase. SDG&E defended the proposed increase as necessary to maintain, upgrade and expand its system of power lines, pipelines and generation plants.

“Right now SDG&E has a very utility-friendly [regulatory] commission,” said Shames in a San Diego Union-Tribune report.

A utility spokesperson cautioned that the numbers being thrown around are preliminary and could “change significantly” before SDG&E files its formal rate request. The current proposal would provide the utility with 27% more revenue for maintaining and building power lines, an increase of 6.9% for new electric generation and a 18.3% raise for added natural gas pipelines.

The utility said it is dealing with higher costs related to government regulation, stiffer environmental rules and higher prices for construction materials, such as steel and copper.

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