Bills Adding CPUC Controls Struggle

By Published On: April 20, 2012

Legislation requiring the California Public Utilities Commission to increase public releases of non-proprietary gas pipeline and other safety-related information squeaked by the Senate Energy, Utilities, & Communications Committee. It passed 7-4 April 17. Sen. Leland Yee’s (D-San Francisco) SB 1000 prods the CPUC to loosen its document confidentiality rules--an effort that regulators initiated after the bill’s introduction. “This nudges the CPUC along,” said Yee. “This sends a signal to the CPUC that we want an open system,” he added, noting information about whether “dangerous pipes” are near or under one’s homes is currently kept secret. Sen. Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles) worried the bill would allow the release of potentially “false information” by staff. SB 981--Another Yee bill that also managed to scrape by prohibits the appointment of CPUC members or the hiring of other executive level employees if they worked for a regulated utility in the prior two years. CPUC members and high level staff also are prohibited from working for a regulated utility within two years of leaving the commission. Hill’s bill does not impact current staff. SB 1332--Also just making the cut, by Sen. Negrete McLeod (D-Montclair), specifies what is to be factored into the price public power agencies pay under standardized renewable deals for small systems. Her bill directs nine munis to include in their mandated feed-in tariff price the cost of avoided peak power purchases, greenhouse gas emissions, and distribution and transmission line upgrades and additions. Two years ago, her bill--SB 32--directed that munis create a feed-in-tariff program for small solar, biogas and other renewable systems. These tariffs include a set transparent price. SB 32 requires the tariffs to be in place by March 1, 2013, and caps the amount at 75 MW. According to the SB 1332 analysis, only four of nine agencies have complied with SB 32, including the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, Riverside, Anaheim and Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. SMUD’s feed in tariff price is 14 cents/kWh. Riverside pays five cents/kWh. Anaheim’s price varies and LA is just about to launch a 10 MW pilot program (see story on page 9). SB 1268--By Sen. Fran Pavley’s (D-Agoura Hills), this bill sailed through the committee with no opposition. It extends by 15 years to 2028 a low-interest revolving loan program for energy efficiency installations at local government buildings, schools, and hospitals. It passed 13-0. “The program is a proven success story,” Pavley said. The Energy Conservation Assistance Account loan program currently expires at the beginning of next year. It’s handled by the California Energy Commission because the existing loan payback period is a decade-and-a-half, she noted. SB 1350--By Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), this legislation redirects utility penalties for gas safety violations away from the state’s general fund to ratepayers. Leno said the bill allows the CPUC to offset higher rates expected from natural gas safety pipeline improvements. Private utilities and consumer advocates support SB 1350. The Utility Reform Network lobbyist Lenny Goldberg said fining authority is often taken away from agencies because it motivates them to slap on fines to increase their budgets. “In this case this incentive isn’t there because the money doesn’t go to the CPUC, but to ratepayers,” he said. It passed 12-0. SB 1496--After several previous attempts Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) again is trying to require the state to study the need for liquefied natural gas facilities along the coast. “I am agnostic,” Simitian said about liquefied natural gas. In the middle of the last decade, there were several proposed liquefied natural gas import terminal projects seeking permits. He said the measure is a good idea because of the growing surplus of natural gas and the likely push not for LNG import terminals, but export projects along the state’s coast. “It’s nice to have a process in place rather than ad hoc decisions,” Simitian said. Sen. Christine Kehoe (D- San Diego) said her ongoing concern is the cost of the study. Simitian replied that the cost is “very modest” in contrast to the billions of dollars of investments LNG developers spend pursuing project certifications.

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