The California Public Utilities Commission will begin seeking public comment next month on its alternative bankruptcy reorganization plan for Pacific Gas and Electric, under a resolution approved by the PUC Monday.
The order, however, failed to convince a consumer group to drop a lawsuit it filed earlier this month to prevent the PUC from striking financial deals with utilities without public input.
The order opens an investigation into the potential rate effect of the plan, which was filed April 15 with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco. Parties can comment on either the PUC or PG&E plan or submit their own proposal. Comments are due May 10 and replies must be submitted by May 22.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which filed the suit, contends that because of its truncated comment schedule, the PUC does little to reassure the public that it has a stake in PG&E‘s reorganization. Since PG&E filed its plan in September, ratepayers have been indirectly represented by the PUC, which formed its plan without hearings and entered into private mediation talks with PG&E.
FCTR’s lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court claimed the PUC is legally banned by California law from forcing ratepayers to bear the utilities’ wholesale purchased power losses. The group also asked the court to prohibit the PUC from violating due process requirements applicable to electricity rate increases by forming private deals, a move that could threaten the PUC‘s ability to keep its alternate in the bankruptcy court.
A spokesman for the group said the PUC‘s order is ”like putting a ballplayer in the game after the final buzzer,” given that the PUC has already submitted its plan to the bankruptcy court. ”The PUC needs to inform the judge that its plan is subject to change pending public hearings and to ask for a delay to take public comment and make changes,” he said.