CEC Delays Research on Budget Woes

By Published On: August 29, 2008

Concerned about the uncertainty over how the new state budget will affect the commission’s Public Interest Energy Research program, the California Energy Commission decided to delay approving three research contracts totaling $2.72 million. The California Legislature is almost two months past a July 1 deadline to reach an agreement on a new budget. There is concern within the commission that an approved budget could have a negative impact on the PIER program. Of the three items the commission unanimously decided to put off at its August 27 meeting, the most significant was a $2.4 million agreement with the University of California. It would fund the Center for the Study of Energy Markets at the UC Energy Institute. The CSEM is set to conduct research in market design and operation for 42 months, beginning October 1. The Energy Institute itself is caught up in politics. While the California Public Utilities Commission set a goal of starting one up at a yet-unnamed university for $600 million, legislation introduced to override that move with a lawmaker-authorized energy institute has a good chance of enactment (see story above). Given the amount and the state’s current budget woes, not all commissioners were ready to approve the item. “It might be worth holding this until our next meeting to see what happens with the Legislature, given the uncertainty of the PIER program,” said Energy Commission chair Jackie Pfannenstiel. The second contract put on hold was $397,000 for researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, to provide a statewide overview of how farming practices to generate renewable biofuel feedstocks can affect California’s wildlife species and water use. The final contract held was for $300,000 with the Regents of the University of California, Davis, to expand and enhance a water resources management tool. The project includes a module to track the energy implications of measures the state may implement in the water sector to cope with climate change. Commissioners agreed to hold the items until at least the commission’s next business meeting, currently scheduled for September 10. The commission did approve one non-PIER contract, however. It was a $366,081 loan to the Santa Maria-Bonita School District to install several energy efficiency projects, including lighting, equipment controls, and refrigeration improvements. The payback is set for three years. Also at its August 27 meeting, the commission found GWF Energy’s application for certification for the planned GWF Tracy Combined Cycle Power Plant Project to be “data inadequate.” Under the plan, the existing 169 MW peaking plant would be converted into a combined-cycle power plant with a new nominal generating capacity of 314 MW, but the CEC noted the proposal was missing information. The matter may be revisited at the CEC’s September 10 business meeting.

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