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PUC Member Rebukes Legal Staff on Report

March 07, 1985|BRUCE KEPPEL | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The state Public Utilities Commission delayed a decision on a $56-million rate dispute Wednesday after one member lashed out at a harshly worded staff report critical of Southern California Edison Co.

"We're not here to play legal games," said commission member William Bagley. He suggested that the PUC's legal staff withdraw from a case in which it urged that shareholders of Rosemead-based Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. bear the costs of correcting manufacturing defects that resulted in a 14-month shutdown of San Onofre Unit 1 during 1980 and 1981.

Electric customers in the 19 counties served by Edison and SDG&E would realize a small savings on their bills--less than 1% a month for the next three years--if the commission adopts the staff's position, utility officials said.

Upset by 'Venom'

While Bagley did not challenge the report's conclusion, he was sharply critical of what he called the "gross adjectives" and "venom flowing from" the report.

The report, written by staff counsel Robert Cagen, said, in effect, that Edison had only itself to blame for setbacks in its legal efforts to make Westinghouse, the manufacturer, pay for repairs to three steam generators that forced the shutdown.

Cagen's report cited a number of statements by Edison officials during 1981 and 1982 that, he said, they should have realized would come back to haunt them in their federal court lawsuit.

The staff's investigation "revealed some of the most extreme examples of imprudence we have ever discovered," Cagen wrote in the report.

Edison responded that the report was both unfair in tone and "reached a number of incorrect conclusions." The company said the "staff's motion transcends the reasonable bounds of advocacy and has no place in commission proceedings or elsewhere."

'Not Here to Be Angry'

Bagley's displeasure with the staff found no echo among the PUC's other four members, but disposition of the case was postponed for two weeks, until the commission's March 20 meeting.

The PUC's general counsel, Jan Kerr, sought to defend the language as a reflection of Cagen's "anger at the situation."

"We're not here to be angry," Bagley replied. "I believe that the general counsel's office should remove itself from the case."

The money in question represents about three-fourths of the repair costs for the nuclear-powered steam generators.

Additional safety work required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has kept the unit shut down for most of the time since 1982. Unit No. 1 only resumed full operation last December.

Edison, which operates the nuclear power plant, owns 80% of the northern San Diego County facility. San Diego-based SDG&E owns about 20% of the plant.

Times staff writer Kenneth F. Bunting contributed to this story.

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