City Asks CPUC to Halt PG&E’s Community Aggregation Hurdle

By Published On: January 15, 2010

San Francisco’s attorney general this week called on the California Public Utilities Commission to create regulations to prevent Pacific Gas & Electric from what he called undermining the state’s Community Choice Aggregation program. In a petition filed January 11 with the CPUC, city attorney Dennis Herrera says he is responding to efforts by PG&E to “kill consumer choice.” He declared that PG&E is doing so through a committee that’s campaigning for a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority to establish an aggregation program. Community aggregation programs, which were legislatively authorized in 2002, allow local governments to buy blocks of power to sell to residents, essentially making cities and counties private utility competitors. In the petition, Herrera says that a direct mailer sent to San Franciscans last month by a PG&E-supported political committee campaigning for the “California Taxpayers Right to Vote Act” “savaged” the city’s consumer choice plan. He added that the utility’s recent abandonment of its years-long neutrality on the issue of community aggregation is unfair. “The California Public Utilities Commission exists to police giant utilities, to assure that their monopoly advantages aren’t abused to exploit consumers or frustrate the policy objectives of our state lawmakers,” Herrera said. “Yet that is exactly what has happened since PG&E locked CCA into its crosshairs.” Specifically, the city attorney’s petition requests that the CPUC prohibit utilities from engaging in marketing to retail customers regarding a community aggregation program or programs; and prohibit utilities from soliciting opt-out requests or dictating the opt-out mechanism, except when requested to do so by a community program. The commission should also investigate PG&E’s violations of California law and Commission rules in its anti-community aggregation marketing efforts, the petition states. Herrera also asked for an expedited process for community aggregation programs to obtain temporary injunctive relief against utilities alleged to have violated their obligations toward such programs. “It is critical for state regulators to move quickly and decisively to tighten regulations,” according to Herrera. PG&E spokesperson Joe Molica said that the utility has every right to take the actions it has thus far. “We will continue to communicate with our customers on issues we support,” he said. “We support the coalition, we support their efforts.” In addition to requiring a two-thirds vote by the public on establishing community aggregation, the Right to Vote Act would also require a two-thirds vote before a local government could expand power service to new territory or new customers. Because of this, some municipal utilities and other parties have denounced the measure, calling it a plot by PG&E to stifle competition. That includes the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, whose board voted unanimously last August to take an official position against it. Other opponents of the measure include public officials in Glendale and Burbank and two Los Angeles County cities that operate public utilities. On January 12, the California Secretary of State’s office announced that the Right to Vote Act, now known as the “New Two-Thirds Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers Act,” had gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the June 8 statewide ballot.

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