SSJID wins round in bid for PG&E power service area

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District has won the latest legal round in its bid to acquire the electricity system in and around Ripon, Escalon and Manteca.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which serves the area, had claimed in a lawsuit that SSJID had to specifically show that it could provide the promised 15 percent rate reduction when the proposal won a key vote in 2014.

Judge Carter Holly, ruling last week in San Joaquin Superior Court, said state law required only that the district demonstrate “sufficient revenues” when it got approval from the San Joaquin Local Agency Formation Commission to become a power retailer.

SSJID still plans to achieve the 15 percent cut once the lengthy process is completed, general manager Peter Rietkerk said. That could include the use of eminent domain against PG&E, which does not want to sell its transmission lines, substations and other assets.

PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers Merlo said the ruling was “disappointing” but is just one step in the process.

“We remain steadfast in the belief that SSJID’s plan poses significant risks to the safety, reliability and affordability of retail electric service for our customers,” she said. “We will continue to serve, protect and advocate for the best interests of our customers.”

The district has sought since 2009 to provide power to about 110,000 people in the south county. It has long delivered Stanislaus River water to about 50,000 acres of farmland and treats some its supply for use in Manteca, Tracy and Lathrop. SSJID generates hydropower at four plants it owns with the Oakdale Irrigation District, selling it on the wholesale market.

Holly also rejected a claim involving SSJID’s proposal to replace local taxes that PG&E now pays to the county and three cities in the power service area. The district, as a public agency, is not required to pay these property taxes and franchise fees.

PG&E said the proposed payments would amount to new taxes that SSJID customers would have to approve, as well as a “gift of public funds.” Holly said the district has several options for making the payments and any challenge is premature.

Aside from the issue in last week’s ruling, PG&E has claimed that SSJID greatly underestimated the purchase cost for the system. The district is in the midst of updating its appraisal, spokeswoman Troylene Vallow said.

If successful, SSJID would join the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts as power retailers within PG&E’s vast service area in Northern California.

John Holland: 209-578-2385