Bills Focus on CPUC Openness & Biomethane

By Published On: April 13, 2012

Out-of-state biomethane projects may count as a renewable resource, if a bill approved this week by the Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committee is signed into law. Legislation by Assemblymember Wes Chesbro (D-North Coast) overrides the California Energy Commission’s temporary disqualification of new biomethane gas-fueled projects as renewable under the state’s 33 percent alternative energy mandate. According to Chesbro, a number of public power agencies signed biomethane deals last month. They include Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Pasadena Water & Power, Burbank Water & Power, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Vernon, Imperial Irrigation District, and Anaheim. Not counting those agreements under the renewables mandate, according to the munis, would increase rates. Under the Energy Commission’s March 28 decision, new or expanded biomethane power projects cannot count toward utilities’ or other electricity providers’ 33 percent renewable mandate, at least until the agency sorts out whether biomethane is truly meeting the state’s clean energy goals. A key issue is that some out-of-state biomethane resources are not piped into the state but counted as renewable. “It is not clear that the gas makes its way to California or is disposed before,” said the Energy Commission’s senior staff counsel Gabe Herrera. The maximum amount of pipeline biomethane expected to be bought for use in California and deemed renewable over the next three to five years is approximately 50,000 MMBtu–or 300 MW of capacity round the clock, according to the bill analysis. Chesbro’s AB 2196 passed 10-0. Other bills the committee passed include the following: – Assemblymember Jerry Hill’s (D-San Bruno) AB 1456 requires the California Public Utililties Commission to assess utility rates of return in light of whether they are meeting natural gas pipeline safety rules. The bill, passed 15-0, previously would have tied the rates of return to utility safety performance. – AB 1650 by Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena) requires utilities to develop and/or update disaster preparedness plans every two years. They are to meet and confer with cities and counties on the plans. Portantino pointed out that the San Gabriel Valley was hit by hurricane force winds late last year that caused blackouts. He and others said Edison was slow to restore power, had communications difficulties, and failed to meet safety standards. Edison supports the bill. – AB 1694 by Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes (D-Arleta) directs the CPUC to apply a risk-based approach to determine how often to inspect mobile home gas and propane operations. There are 3,476 mobile home park master metered gas systems in the state. The bill passed 14-0. – AB 2187 by Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood), committee chair, allows renewable contracts signed as of Jan. 13, 2011, under the 20 percent mandate, to count towards the 33 percent renewables law, SB2x 1. The bill, passed last year, set an eligibility cutoff date of June 2010, putting in limbo a number deals with Noble Energy. AB 2187 passed on a 13-0 vote. – AB 2249 by Assemblymember Jean Buchanan (D-San Ramon) expands the state subsidy for solar water heaters. Passed 13-0, the bill allows schools, non-profits and other non-residential users to tap into the $250 million California Solar Initiative pot set aside for solar water heaters. According to Buchanan, the fund has been largely untapped. – AB 2559 by Buchanan expedites the local permit process for utility gas safety operations. It passed 15-0. Also passed 11-0 was AB 1541 by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento). It applies the California Public Records Act mandates to the CPUC to undo the commission’s restrictions on public release of safety-related documents, including ones on natural gas pipelines. “Government activity ought to be conducted in light of day,” Dickinson told the committee April 9. He also acknowledged the need to “protect sensitive information.” “This is the direction our new commission seeks to move in,” responded Nick Zanjani, CPUC legislative liaison. The commission has been accused of keeping the public in the dark on safety and other matters with its limited public release of documents. Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) introduced legislation earlier this year to force more public disclosure of documents. In response, regulators announced they were planning to loosen their document confidentiality rules (Current, March 30, 2012). Southern California Edison urged that AB 1541 be modified to reflect ongoing revisions to the CPUC’s proposed resolution covering access to documents. The main dissent was from PacifiCorp because of its unique situation that would expose all of the documents it submits to the CPUC, according to lobbyist Delaney Hunter. “We are the weird little guys that don’t get protection,” she said.

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