The California Public Utilities Commission voted to require San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers to cover SDG&E\u2019s higher fire insurance premiums. The Dec. 16 vote was 3-2. \u201cIt\u2019s unusual circumstances,\u201d said commissioner Nancy Ryan, voting to grant the utility\u2019s request. Commissioner John Bohn called the utility\u2019s rationale to increase ratepayer responsibility for its fire insurance a \u201cslippery slope.\u201d The approved decision by commissioner Tim Simon allows SDG&E to recover $29 million in rates after concluding the utility\u2019s insurance premiums after wildfires in 2007 were not within its control, nor part of the normal course of business. That satisfies the rate case mechanism\u2019s requisite criteria--known as the \u201cZ factor.\u201d Insurance premium hikes post 2009-10, under Simon\u2019s proposal, can be recovered without formal hearings via advice letter. That troubled commissioner Ryan, but not enough to vote against the decision. A decision by administrative law judge Maribeth Bushey that would have denied $29 million in recovery via the 2009 General Rate Case was turned down, with the commission preferring Simon\u2019s alternate. Regulators conduct \u201cgeneral rate cases\u201d every three years for the state\u2019s utilities. The formal hearings delve into many line items in utility spending plans until the next rate case is vetted. In San Diego\u2019s case, the general rate case included $4.5 million for liability insurance, but its actual costs were $47 million for 2009, according to SDG&E. In the 20 years the Z factor has been available in general rate cases, the CPUC has approved rate recovery under the factor only once. That was in a telecomm matter dealing with post-retirement benefits other than pensions. Ratepayer advocates protested SDG&E\u2019s rate recovery request for the higher insurance premiums, noting the utility was found partly liable for the 2007 wildfires and could have better used its bargaining power with insurance firms. SDG&E has coverage for wildfire liability with 27 different firms and another 28 for general liability. Its deductible rose from $1 million to $5 million. Deductibles are charged to ratepayers. The fall 2007 blazes caused two deaths, dozens of injuries, the destruction of more than 1,300 homes and burned thousands of acres. Investigations into the fires ultimately blamed SDG&E wires for contributing to the blazes by violating transmission safety regulations.