Energy Agency Reorg on Hot Seat

By Published On: June 19, 2009

Two key energy agencies’ simmering turf battle over transmission siting authority flared during a debate on revived legislation seeking to consolidate the state’s 12 agencies involved in energy policy and practice into a mega state Department of Energy. The reorganization “is critical to meeting many of our state energy goals and will save consumers money,” said California Energy Commission member Jeff Bryon during a June 16 Senate Energy Utilities & Communications informational hearing on ABx3 33. The bill, by Assemblymember Mike Villines (R-Fresno), includes a provision that transfers the California Public Utilities Commission’s transmission line permitting authority to a revamped CEC. The umbrella state energy department would subsume both commissions. The new department would have a cabinet-level secretary appointed by the governor. The energy department would eliminate many agency commissioners because it would have just a five-member board. “It’s unconstitutional and a bad idea,” said Paul Clanon, CPUC executive director. Chris Mowrer, from the California Natural Resources Agency representing the governor, insisted the bill creates “a clear line of authority and accountability” and eliminates duplication of efforts. He acknowledged, however, that the reorganization faced legal and procedural hurdles. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), committee chair, asked for specifics on the projected savings, and when they would occur. “The recurring theme is that the benefits tend to be small.” CPUC member Dian Grueneich said her agency has worked to streamline the permitting process for high voltage lines. “The reality is that we have spent four years building up expertise, procedures and relationships.” An agency overhaul, she said, would “disrupt relationships and staffing, and slow us down.” Grueneich and other agency reorganization opponents warned that a consolidation also could jeopardize the receipt of federal stimulus money for energy efficiency, weatherization, and renewable and advanced grid technologies. For example, earlier that day the Department of Energy announced funding opportunities aimed at state utility commissions. Most of the objections during the hearing focused on transferring weatherization programs from the Community Services Department to the potential state DOE. That department won $186 million in federal stimulus funds--with 10 percent of that in hand to date--to increase energy efficiency in low income residences and provide cash assistance for utility bills. The legislation also creates an accelerated nine-month siting process for solar and other renewable projects slated for zones found by the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative to be rich in renewable resources.

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