In the Interest of Fairness…
Last Thursday evening, at Edison’s Community Engagement Panel meeting, the Chairman, David Victor, gave an impassioned speech in his own defense for an apparent breech of public trust in a pending lawsuit. Dr. Victor was notably upset, so in fairness, I want to share his side of the story with you here.
He emphasized just how sensitive he is to even the perception of bias, going to “extraordinary lengths to avoid any appearance of impropriety”. With a case pending to be heard, the perception is already out there now and can’t be ignored.
Here’s the email sent by David Victor, with his permission to share. It was the same message he shared at the CEP meeting. I have inserted relevant comments in green for context.
Dear Mr Headrick and Mr Langley
I was disappointed to see that over the last two days both of you have circulated news items to your organizations that create the impression that I am “under fire” for failures of financial disclosure and for bias in the research that I lead at UC San Diego. Mr. Headrick’s message goes further to claim that my ties to the utility industry has me doing their “bidding.” Both of your messages imply that I have been biased in how I chair the CEP.
These allegations are completely false. Briefly:
My research group at UC San Diego accepts funding from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). For the record, EPRI is the nonprofit research group, set up at the urging of Congress, to advance research in the public interest relating to electric power. My research group works on topics such as how to integrate renewable power on the grids, how to run microgrids, and how to charge electric vehicles in ways that minimize emissions that cause global warming. This work contributes directly to the nation’s and California’s goals of leadership on global warming policy. None of it has anything to do with San Onofre, the nuclear power industry, or power plant decommissioning.
The significance of his role in the CEP is unmistakable and the outcome of this case could have serious implications concerning public safety at San Onofre.
Strangely, Mr. Headrick’s note to his followers creates the impression that my research funding from EPRI has been hidden from view—a secret, revealed only through sleuthy disclosure under the Public Records Act. In fact, the opposite is true: I have always made our EPRI funding transparent—in published papers, in speeches, online and many other locations. And the Public Records Act is part of that transparency. Not only have I been fully transparent, but I’m also proud of EPRI’s support. It’s a sign of the high regard and integrity of our research. It’s also one way that we learn from EPRI and its members—learning that helps us make sure that our research is linked to the reality of how electric power systems work. That kind of reality-based research is exactly what the world’s need as we search for practical solutions to the climate crisis.
According to the Union Tribune, the lawsuit, filed Monday in San Diego Superior Court by the Protect Our Communities Foundation, claims the county report co-produced by researcher David Victor badly underestimates the promise of locally generated solar power. Instead, the “regional decarbonization framework” that Victor helped write for San Diego County focused on large-scale projects that require a multibillion-dollar investment in new power lines, the suit says.
Both of you refer to a one-sided article in the San Diego Union Tribune (UT) covering a lawsuit. Neither UC San Diego nor I comment directly on pending litigation, and thus of course the article can’t represent our perspective and can’t, therefore, be accurate. The research done at UC San Diego implicated in that article is robust and meets the highest standards of quality and is extensively peer reviewed. I see this lawsuit as a pretty standard tactic—file a lawsuit and, by doing so, make it hard for people attacked in the suit to express their view because of concerns about legal exposure. It is a dark side of our legal system, and I am disappointed to see how easily you fall into that trap.
After reviewing the evidence presented, I felt I must bring this to the public’s attention immediately. The timing of the CEP meeting was coincidental, not planned to take anyone by surprise or coordinated with any other individual or group.
The research discussed in the UT article was done by UC San Diego for the County of San Diego. The lawsuit discusses at length assumptions about matters such as the cost of power lines and land use related to grid-connected solar. I presume that the backers of that suit are interested in such arguments because they would like to believe that rooftop solar is a better option than grid-connected solar or wind. But on that matter, I can only speculate—they never asked me any of these questions about assumptions, and the first I heard in any detail about their concerns was, oddly, reading about them in a lawsuit. (Normally, scientists interested in real debate don’t work this way.). These are legitimate debates, but that’s hard to do when the questions are raised in suit rather than normal channels. The lawsuit and the UT article both imply that I, somehow, distorted these assumptions. That is false and misleading. I didn’t have any involvement with the research for the County on power grid and land use analysis, and had anyone checked even the table of contents for the county study and looked at which authors were associated with the different parts of the study that reality would have been immediately apparent. My only involvement in the County study was in a single, narrow portion of the study that deals with policy strategy. (Ironically, my contribution was about how policy makers can make decisions under conditions of uncertainty—that is, when the best answers are unknown. How ironic to be accused of biasing a study about uncertainty when my very contribution was to underscore the need to include uncertainty in how the County made policy decisions).
For about a year I worked as a consultant to SDG&E on a study about how to design an electric power grid that has zero emissions. None of the work in that study fed into the County analysis nor vice versa. I did that work with SDG&E because it resonated with the central objective of my research program: how to eliminate the emissions that cause global warming. I presume that you share that goal. My work for SDG&E was fully disclosed.
Let me close on a personal note of deep disappointment in your behavior. Over the years we have often disagreed, but I have always treated you with respect. I have always gone the extra mile—I have organized meetings on your behalf to discuss technical issues and I have entertained any and all topics of discussion. Imagine my surprise when, afforded the opportunity to advance that same behavior of civility and interest in facts, you chose differently.
Someday the government will have to take responsibility for nuclear waste and it will require the utmost of integrity and good science to make it a successful handoff for the good of countless generations to come. We need to find common ground with Edison. Right now, I’d say there is mutual respect, but trust is much harder to earn. “Trust but verify” is the name of the game until this finally gets resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Nothing personal, just the way it has to be.
Sadly, this case reflects in microcosm what often goes wrong with American politics. We need to find a better way to disagree without tearing people down—especially when the teardown revolves around false arguments . Why don’t we take a breath, pause, and focus on what we really care about—which is, in the case of San Onofre, finding ways to make sure that the decommissioning is responsible and safe, and making sure that we have expeditious and responsible ways to move the spent fuel from San Onofre. I think I have demonstrated, over more than six years as the unpaid volunteer chair of the CEP, my commitment to those goals.
According to documents obtained under the California Public Records Act, GPS, (UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy) accepted a pledge from EPRI in the amount of $900,000 on or about January 7, 2021, paid in installments in 2021 and 2022, all of which were earmarked to support research “being conducted by David G. Victor.”
I can honestly say, again, that I hope that this lawsuit does not reveal that the leader of the CEP has squandered the public’s trust to favor any utility company’s bottom line. We have a long way to go and not much time to get it right at San Onofre. May truth and justice always lead the way.