IT'S THE CAPITOL: Assemblymembers Question CPUC’s 2010 Performance

By Published On: March 18, 2011

Energy efficiency bonuses for under-performing utilities, smart meter opt outs, and the renewables portfolio standard were issues of most interest to lawmakers in the Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committee conducting an annual review of the California Public Utilities Commission March 14. “We need greater oversight, enforcement, and a little bit more transparency” from the commission, said committee chair Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood). Assemblymember Bradford’s top message to the CPUC was that utility bonuses for contested energy efficiency savings last year were unwarranted. “There are more carrots being handed out than sticks,” said Bradford. “There clearly needs [to be] a balance.” At the end of last year, regulators on a 3-2 vote approved giving investor-owned utilities almost $63 million in energy efficiency incentives. A competing CPUC proposal that would have given utilities no additional awards for claimed savings failed, garnering only two votes (Current, Dec. 17, 2010). CPUC president Mike Peevey acknowledged the public concern on utility bonuses. He added, “The majority of the commission felt [utilities] did meet their goals” for energy efficiency in order to receive bonuses. Peevey subsequently downplayed another high-profile issue--the public backlash on digital meter installations throughout the state. He said that “overall it’s going well” for digital meter installation, despite “a bit of negativism in Northern California.” Peevey assured Assemblymembers the commission “has significant confidence that [utilities] will get to a 33 percent renewables portfolio standard.” Legislators also asked about the commission’s decision to proceed with the Oakley fossil-fueled 640 MW power plant. The plant is to be owned by Pacific Gas & Electric. The commission decided--amid controversy that it provides unnecessary generation at a cost of $1.25-$1.6 billion--that it should be built. Peevey was also queried as to why the CPUC first denied Oakley then approved it. “I was persuaded that we needed it,” Peevey responded. He added that political entities beseeched the commission for Oakley’s approval. Despite being a public issue in which the CPUC has economic control, Bradford refused to discuss the commission’s effect on nuclear power plants after public entreaties to do so at the hearing from the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility. The CPUC has no control over nuclear health and safety, but does hold the state’s nuclear purse strings. If regulators find that it’s not in the state’s economic interest to keep them running, they could be shut down. The hearing was informational--required on an annual basis for legislators to review commission performance.

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