CPUC Transmission Clout in Question

By Published On: January 31, 2004

California Public Utilities Commission member Susan Kennedy sent up flares this week when she acknowledged that behind-the-scenes plans could be brewing to strip the CPUC of its authority over transmission facilities siting. While stopping short of saying Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger?s administration endorses a jurisdictional change, Kennedy?through her chief of staff?said the governor is ?interested? in the California Energy Commission?s transmission plans, which include taking over, and fast-tracking, transmission siting. Administration officials would not confirm or deny that any change of transmission jurisdiction is in the works. This signal followed a more direct warning from Kennedy last week that many in Sacramento are contemplating taking away the agency?s transmission authority. She said the CPUC needs to improve its siting performance in order to hang on to this clout. Kennedy?s warning drew mixed responses from fellow regulators. Commissioner Geoffrey Brown said that the agency should beware of being ?too solicitous? of the powerful. Noting that the CEC and the CPUC have some duplicative jobs, Brown said he wouldn?t be surprised if plans were in the works to transfer the CPUC?s authority. Historically, governors have always had a hand in CPUC matters to some extent, he observed. However, unlike nearly all other state agencies, the commission is removed from Sacramento, both physically and by legislative design, allowing it to remain independent. ?Don?t jump every time someone says ?jurisdiction,?? said Brown. ?Once it?s known that this [strategy] works, it will be used again.? Brown is, more often than not, the swing vote on the five-member commission. While the CEC?s focus is often on technical issues, the CPUC is best equipped to determine how issues affect the public interest, he added. The commission has not yet responded to Schwarzenegger?s request that the CPUC suspend its rulemaking authority for six months?a written request made by the governor last December. Several commissioners have pointed to pending consumer-protection telecommunications rules as motivating the governor?s request. Brown said that commissioners are striving to accommodate the governor on this matter.

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