Governor Jerry Brown ordered California agencies to halt hiring new staff. In addition, Brown and lawmakers are looking for areas to cut as they review state energy agencies\u2019 upcoming spending plans. This is not the first state hiring freeze, and it did not catch energy agencies by surprise. Some have moved around existing staff to fill in gaps. The California Energy Commission is \u201cadjusting and re-evaluating its priorities,\u201d according to Susanne Garfield, agency spokesperson. That includes shifting staff within its divisions, such as research and development, federal stimulus fund program implementation, and plant licensing. \u201cIt\u2019s a constant shifting,\u201d Garfield added. There have been no new hires at the Energy Commission since Aug. 31, 2010, according to the agency. \u201cWe\u2019ve actually been operating under a freeze since last year,\u201d Garfield said. At the end of last summer, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a memo to all department directors and agency secretaries notifying them that they can only hire personnel when critical. Brown issued his own hiring freeze order last month. A looming concern is that several Energy Commission staff members in upper management are near retirement age. If there is an exodus during the hiring freeze, the stress on existing staff is expected to increase. Some positions are important enough that they can\u2019t go unfilled indefinitely, Garfield pointed out. \u201cAt this point, we would apply for exemptions to fill positions and explain [to the governor] they\u2019re mission-critical.\u201d The California Public Utilities Commission and Division of Ratepayer Advocates are assessing the impact of the hiring freeze. Spokesperson Terrie Prosper provided no details. Two new commissioners, Mike Florio and Catherine Sandoval, announced staff advisor hires before the freeze. The Department of Water Resources energy division says it\u2019s not impacted by the freeze because it\u2019s shrinking its staff. At the height of the 2000-01 energy crisis, DWR\u2019s California Energy Resources Scheduling division was responsible for $42 billion of contracts for energy supplies signed behind closed doors at the direction of then Governor Gray Davis. The controversial deals to ensure power adequacy for the state\u2019s cash- and power-strapped investor-owned utilities were released months later in response to media lawsuits and political pressure. As of 2012, the division is set to provide less than 1 percent of utilities\u2019 load requirement, according to Richard Grix, CERS assistant manager. There \u201cwill be an ongoing need for staff to manage the bonds issued to repay the general fund for monies borrowed to buy electricity\u201d during the 2000-01 crisis, Grix added. More than $11 billion in bonds were issued in 2002, with $8.4 billion still outstanding. The debt is due in 2022. The budgets of the agencies largely are not covered by the state\u2019s deficit-ridden general fund. Although they\u2019re specially funded, the severe state budget deficit makes them targets for the budget chopping block or budget transfers. On Feb. 18, the Senate Budget Committee preliminarily carved off $8.4 million from the Energy Commission\u2019s budget. That money pays for such activities as power plant licensing and energy planning. Lawmakers left open the possibility they would change their minds in spring if the Energy Commission can show why the money raised from utility ratepayers is needed. The committee also rejected the CPUC\u2019s funding requests--including one for $500,000 to hire a consultant to review seismic studies being performed at Pacific Gas & Electric\u2019s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. The CPUC does not have in-house experts to interpret the seismic studies required under state law and seeks to hire outsiders to fill that hole. The budget panel agreed with legislative staff and the Legislative Analyst Office that the California Geological Survey could review the studies for the commission, saving a half million dollars. The panel further cut $229,000 intended to develop an energy storage plan. Lawmakers said they would reconsider the money if the CPUC could develop a better justification for the expenditure. Those cuts come in addition to the approval to transfer $162 million of CPUC-administered fees collected from gas utility customers to the state\u2019s general fund to help offset the deficit (Current, Feb. 25, 2011). Lawmakers said this week that they plan to move more than that amount into the general fund, a Southern California Gas manager told Current. Traditionally, that money is used to fund gas energy efficiency programs. The budget panel also zeroed out $2 million the California Air Resources Board intends to use next fiscal year to administer its 33 percent renewables energy standard regulation, which it adopted last year. Lawmakers said they want the Air Board to see how a pending bill to raise the renewables mandate to 33 percent by 2020 fares before they give it any money. The one-third renewables mandate measure passed the Senate last week. Instead of the Air Board, it puts the CPUC--which now administers the state law requiring 20 percent renewable power--in charge of enforcing the 33 percent requirement (Current, Feb. 25, 2011).