SoCalGas may end up paying nearly $10 million for using customer money to fight efficiency measures – San Bernardino Sun

SoCalGas could end up paying the state $9.8 million after an agency that oversees the utility said the company used ratepayer money to advocate against the adoption of energy efficiency measures.

The California Public Utilities Commission issued a decision last week to penalize Southern California Gas Co. after it banned the company in 2018 from using customer money on fighting to weaken building and appliance efficiency measures that would wean customers off gas, decreasing planet-warming emissions.

The utility, which provides gas to about 22 million customers across Central and Southern California, said it has been working on enhancing the company’s accounting and oversight practices.

“Under new leadership, SoCalGas is focused on a business strategy that is sustainable and aligned with California reaching its climate and clean air goals more quickly and more equitably,” SoCalGas spokesperson Christine Detz wrote in an email.

The utility will have 30 days to appeal the decision.

From 2018 to 2021, SoCalGas sent its employees to workshops, meetings and discussions about the new state and federal building codes, according to the decision. Many of the costs associated with the events were charged to ratepayers, the ruling said.

The gas company demonstrated, “profound, brazen disrespect for the commission’s authority,” according to the ruling.

In 2018, commissioners banned the utility from engaging in any discussions to shape energy efficiency regulations after it became known that SoCal Gas advocated against the adoption of stringent building and efficiency codes.

The Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice and later joined by the commission’s internal watchdog group, sought penalties saying SoCal Gas worked to weaken the state’s 2022 building code that moved the state toward the construction of new all-electric new homes.

Sara Gersen, a senior attorney at the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice that represents the Sierra Club, said although the $9.8-million penalty is short of the $124 million fine the group sought, she hoped it would draw the attention of shareholders and force the company “to mend its ways.”

It’s still unclear what amount SoCal Gas would need to return to customers if the commission moves forward with the penalty.

Last week’s decision, Gersen added, would result in very small refunds to customers from the utility and hardly be noticed on their bills.

But the decision, she said, would save customers money in the long term.

“Hopefully without SoCalGas using customer money to fight strong standards, we’ll be able to ramp those up aggressively, save our money and also have a better chance of meeting our climate goals,” Gersen said.

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