Bill to Shine Light on CPUC Closed-Door Dealings Advances

By Published On: March 28, 2004

Legislation that would reverse the presumption that all utility information submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission is confidential unless deemed otherwise passed out the of Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee on a 5-1 vote March 23. SB 1488 by Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) would make it the rule rather than the exception that information provided to the CPUC?other than trade secrets and other proprietary data?be publicly available. ?The bill creates a presumption of openness,? flipping a provision of the Public Utilities Code written in 1915, Bowen said. The measure is in response to outcries over excessive secrecy during the CPUC?s proceeding on utility power procurement and Pacific Gas & Electric?s bankruptcy. Many of the industries the state regulates are partially deregulated, resulting in ?an abundance of caution? by the CPUC about releasing sensitive data, Bowen said. Oddly enough, much of the information hidden from the public view in the procurement hearings was included in publicly available filings sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and in the CPUC?s general rate cases (see <i>Circuit</i>, Feb. 28, 2004). Many of the objections from utility and telecommunications companies to SB 1488 melted after Bowen agreed to amend her bill to include a provision that would require the CPUC to designate categories of information as confidential. Utilities want certain classes of information withheld from the public?including rate information, prices in competitive bids, assumptions underlying those numbers, energy use of individual customers, demand-response agreements with large energy customers, and security issues. The Utility Reform Network, which has been involved in many of the secret procurement proposals at the CPUC, threw its support behind the bill. The organization supports a broader public policy that makes more information affecting ratepayers?not less?accessible, said TURN lobbyist Lenny Goldberg. The Senate committee also passed another Bowen bill, which would require the California Energy Commission to develop a strategic plan for transmission investments. A move to switch transmission siting authority from the CPUC to the Energy Commission?promoted by the latter?has not got off the ground. The CEC report recommending the change was sent to the governor December 17. The law requires the governor to amend or approve the report within 90 days. CEC member John Geesman recently briefed the governor?s office, and the matter is ?under active discussion,? said Claudia Chandler, CEC spokesperson. The administration is focused on the California performance review that deals with completely restructuring the state government. The transmission proposal could be folded into that review, Chandler said. Bowen?s SB 1565 is neutral on the siting issue, but the fact that it asks the CEC to examine the transmission infrastructure is a sign of confidence in the agency?s abilities. If a significant proposal for improving transmission is made, it?s likely that the bill would be the vehicle to advance it.

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