Regulators fine SCE $16.7 million for too-cozy regulator relationship

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Regulators fined a Southern California utility $16.7 million on Thursday for failing to report private talks between a utility executive and a top state regulator.

The penalty for Southern California Edison is the latest fallout in more than a year of scandals over what watchdog groups and lawmakers say are too-cozy relations between the California Public Utilities Commission and the utilities it regulates.

Thursday's order from the state utilities commission charges that then-utility executive vice president Stephen Pickett failed to report private exchanges he had with then-commission president Michael Peevey over how much the utility had to pay on the 2013 closing costs of a nuclear plant at San Onofre.

In a statement Thursday, SCE president Pedro Pizarro said the issue underscores the need for clearer rules on private communications between regulators and their regulated utilities. Pizarro called for "comprehensive reform of those rules."

Emails released separately by another utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., earlier this year showed Peevey soliciting campaign donations and other funding from that utility.

Peevey did not seek another stint as head of the utility commission when his term expired this year. Critics charge that the state has failed both to discipline commission officials involved in back-room discussions with utilities and to toughen rules against those communications.

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