CPUC Concerned Over ‘Pole Overloads’

By Published On: January 11, 2008

This past summer’s intense Southern California firestorms, on top of the past two weeks of heavy storms, may cause state regulators to pressure utilities to change the way they load their power poles. “We’re concerned telecom is overloading [electric] utilities’ distribution system,” Rich Clark, Consumer Protection and Safety Division of the California Public Utilities Commission director, told commissioners January 10. He said that utility software to measure transformer loads and other distribution issues may be “endangering the reliability of the electrical system.” Clark said he is meeting with Pacific Gas & Electric this week, and the two other major investor-owned utilities in the next couple weeks to discuss the issue. Regulators remain concerned about utility response to their customers in emergencies. “People need information,” said commissioner John Bohn. “So people can plan their lives.” Commissioners’ concern over utility response is nearly an annual event this time of year. For instance, in 2004 the commission called PG&E, and to a lesser extent, other utilities, on the carpet for a 2002 outage. Then, about 2.7 million lost power. In the most recent storm, about 2.5 million–about half of PG&E customers–were blacked out. At the time, the Legislature pressured PG&E to change its phone system to be more responsive to customer calls for information. In other news, the CPUC declared it would try to win passage of legislation to allow the inclusion of gas-fired cogeneration in its self-generation program. According to the commission, this would delete paragraph 379.6(b) of the Public Utilities Code, which limits self-generation rebates to wind and fuel-cell technologies in 2008 and would return the determination of eligible technologies back to the commission.

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