SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Pacific Gas and Electric has been ordered to turn over 65,000 emails exchanged between the utility and state Public Utilities Commission to the city of San Bruno by January 30.
PG&E had already agreed to release the full set of emails to the commission by mid-February, but PUC Administrative Law Judge Amy Yip-Kikugawa is requiring that the company provides the messages directly to San Bruno as well, and moved the deadline up to January 30.
Yip-Kikugawa is allowing PG&E to withhold portions of emails it considered confidential, but said San Bruno could challenge PG&E’s determinations. If San Bruno wants to use any of the messages as evidence in the ongoing rate case, it will have to show they are relevant, the judge said.
San Bruno officials had asked for the release of the emails to determine whether there were any violations, improper influence, or ex parte communications with the CPUC.
The city claims that several sets of previously released emails show a “cozy and improper” relationship between PG&E and the CPUC and they wanted to determine whether the utility had been seeking an “unfair advantage” through back-channel communications.
Yip-Kikugawa is presiding over an administrative proceeding in which PG&E is seeking approval for an increase in rates levied on its Northern and Central California customers to pay for maintaining and modernizing its natural gas pipelines and storage facilities. The San Francisco-based utility is requesting revenue of $1.29 billion for the first year of the work, which would result in an increase of $5.23 per month for the average residential household.
Following the ruling, PG&E spokesman Keith Stephens issued a statement. “We can all agree that the business of the Commission is the business of the public. We’re committed to doing the right thing and to interacting with our state regulator in a transparent and ethical manner. We respectfully urge the CPUC to put in place a clear regulatory model for open public access to communications with all parties,” Stephens said.
San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson said the city is pleased with the ruling. “It could shed additional light on what we believe is a too close, inappropriate and potentially illegal relationship between PG&E and its regulator. The city will be reviewing the messages to address issues of our concern,” she said.
Disclosure of the emails began in July, when San Bruno obtained 41 messages through a state Public Records Act lawsuit it had filed against the commission in San Francisco Superior Court.
On September 15, PG&E announced that, in the wake of those disclosures, it had voluntarily searched through the 65,000 messages sent to and from the commission since 2010. It released a total of 24 messages, in two batches on September 15 and October 6, that it said may have violated commission rules banning certain types of private communications.
On December 22, a week after San Bruno asked the commission to order release of all the emails, PG&E released 12 more email chains and announced its plan to provide all the messages to the commission.
Some of the previously released messages were exchanged between PG&E executives and now-retired Commission President Michael Peevey, Peevey’s former chief of staff, Carol Brown, or Commissioner Michel Florio. Other messages were internal reports by a now-fired PG&E vice president, Brian Cherry, to his now-fired supervisor on alleged private conversations Cherry had with Peevey, Florio and three former commissioners on pending regulatory matters.
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