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PacifiCorp discourages scrutiny of PUC request

PacifiCorp is discouraging regulators from looking too close at its request to limit customer lawsuits, arguing any legal shortfalls can be dealt with in court after the fact.

In an opening brief filed Jan. 23 with the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC), the company said existing constitutional protections ensure customers’ rights would not be violated.

PacifiCorp also argued existing state regulations are so complex, and the duties of a utility company so board, no single policy could account for all potential conflicts.

Because of these factors PacifiCorp said PUC should forego a pending constitutional analysis and allow the courts to address potential issues, as they could do so case-by-case.

“Those issues, only if or when they arise, are best left to the relevant judicial forum,” said the brief.

A PUC analysis of the proposal remains ongoing after staff said last year they would need to investigate the unknown legal and policy impacts of PacifiCorp’s request.

The Canyon Weekly reached out to PacifiCorp for comment on the implications of its brief and did not hear back by deadline.

PacifiCorp has asked PUC for leave to add a limited liability clause to its user agreement, allowing only economic damages and only for losses caused by the use of electrical services. 

This could potentially impact claims in pending wildfire litigation, including suits filed by survivors of the 2020 Labor Day fires.

PacifiCorp’s original request, filed in October of 2023, was schedueld for approval that Novemebr but approval was delayed after PUC staff requested time for an analysis. They said the proposal presented unknown questions regarding legal and policy implications and they required time beyond the approval deadline.

PUC was given until April 9 to approve or deny the request, or designate additional processes to reach a decision. PUC staff have been given until Feb. 20 to file the results of their analysis.

In PacifiCorp’s original filing, they said the limited liability clause was necessary to protect the company’s financial health in light of a credit downgrade due to a wildfire verdict. Last year $92.4 million was awarded to wildfire survivors in Phase I of James et al vs. PacifiCorp and shortly afterward PacifiCorp’s credit was downgrated by S&P Global Ratings.

An $85 million verdict in the same lawsuit was awarded Jan. 23 amid ongling efforts to determine damages for a class of 5,000 claimants. As of press time it was unknown if the compan’s credit rating would again be affected.

The Jan. 23 PUC brief did not mention either verdict or the company’s credit rating. Instead PacifiCorp focused on the connection between high legal liability and high customer rates, and argued it was the role of regulators to prevent the former and avoid the later.

It said its proposal was a “proactive” attempt to “mitigate the impact to utility rates from catastrophic environmental disasters.” It said PUC had the legal right to limit PacifiCorp’s liability or even to “preclude any damages at all” and encouraged the commission to approve its proposal.

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