- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The state’s public utilities commission should stop all back-channel contact between commission members and the state’s largest utility for at least a year, a judge ruled Thursday.

Administrative law Judge Hallie Yacknin’s ruling also bans Pacific Gas & Electric Co. officials from communicating with commissioners’ advisers for one year or until an ongoing rate case is settled, whichever comes first.

The ruling comes a week after groups representing rate-payers urged the government to stop all secret contact between the two entities after emails made public showed regulators and utility executives secretly negotiating rate cases and other matters.

Rate-payer groups have also demanded financial penalties be imposed in the case.

A proposal presented by Commissioner Carla J. Peterman to fine PG&E; $1.05 million that would be paid by its shareholders is to be voted on by the commission on Nov. 20.

Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the PG&E;, said in an email that the utility is “committed to following the rules.”

“We take these matters seriously and that is why we took definitive actions, self-reported these violations to the CPUC, held individuals accountable and we are making significant changes designed to prevent this from happening again,” he added.

PG&E; has released three separate email exchanges that show the president of the state utilities commission, Michael Peevey, and another commissioner, Mike Florio, negotiating utility fines with the utility, pressing PG&E; executives for donations, and negotiating over a judge selection. Peevey has said he will not seek reappointment when his term ends later this year. He and Florio have recused themselves from several matters related to the company.

The utilities commission has said it initiated a third-party review of its communications with regulators.

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