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New motion could delay SSJID eminent domain move

The high stakes legal chess game that could free more than 130,000 South County residents from paying one of the highest electrical power rates in the nation continues.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District, in April, finally secured a court date for a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge to hear its eminent domain case aimed at taking over the PG&E retail power system in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.

It is the decisive step in the legal process for SSJID to achieve its goal of lowering retail electricity rates by at least 15 percent for its constituents in the three communities.

That’s because if the SSJID clears it the final legal step is the court deciding the price. The day in court SSJID has been working to attain for 20 years was set for June 23, 2025.

PG&E, though, this past week filed a motion to delay the trial as they are seeking to have a judge defer the condemnation move back to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The CPUC had previously passed judgment that SSJID had taken all the right steps and could proceed. When a lower court then ruled in SSJID’s favor, PG&E appealed to the California Supreme Court.

The state’s high court almost two years ago to the day refused PG&E’s request to have it review a lower court decision the for-profit utility wanted overturned to derail SSJID’s eminent domain efforts. The high court’s decision not to review the case meant SSJID could proceed with its legal efforts to force a sale of the PG&E system serving Manteca, Lathrop and surrounding farms.

The SSJID also prevailed in May of 2022 in a filing ordering PG&E to pay legal costs SSJID incurred fighting in court over the previous four-plus years to be able to pursue its legal rights under the state constitution to use eminent domain given PG&E rejected above market offers to purchase the local distribution system.

Since the original CPUC decision regarding eminent domain was made in SSJID’s favor, a state law governing for-profit utilities was changed by the legislature.

It added steps that PG&E noted the CPUC did not consider the first time around.

Those “steps” were put in place by lawmakers concerned PG&E — when it was on the ropes due to bankruptcy issues — could have been easy prey for a hostile takeover that may not have benefited ratepayers or PG&E employees.

If SSJID ultimately prevails it will lead to power bills that at the front end will be 15 percent lower than PG&E. That gap, if history is repeated where other agencies forced a sale of PG&E territory such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, will widen as the years pass.

SSJID would be able to take advantage of lower interest rates based on its solid rated financial status to fund system upgrades.

If the 20 years SSJID has invested so far to obtain the local PG&E system seems like a futile effort, keep in mind it took 23 years after the people of Sacramento first moved to exercise their right to acquire their local retail system from PG&E to start delivering electricity in 1946 through SMUD. What PG&E is doing to stop SSJID is almost a replay of their efforts in courts for almost a quarter of a century to stop SMUD.