Gov. Jerry Brown\u2019s appointees to the California Public Utilities Commission--Mike Florio and Catherine Sandoval--were confirmed by the Senate Rules Committee Jan. 18. The two have strong backing from consumer, small business, and many energy industry groups. Their appointments now go to the full California Senate for confirmation to six-year terms on the powerful commission. The Senate must confirm their appointments by Jan. 20, as well as Brown\u2019s appointment of Carla Peterman to the California Energy Commission, who won Rules Committee backing last week (Current, Jan. 13, 2012). \u201cNote the bipartisan nature of the vote here,\u201d said committee chair Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) before an overflow crowd after the panel approved both Florio and Sandoval on 5-0 votes. The two CPUC appointees--who\u2019ve served on the commission for the past year--appeared to win Republican support due in large measure to their commitment to controlling rates and commission-directed spending on energy goals. \u201cOne of my chief concerns is how rate hikes affect both residential customers and also small businesses and big businesses,\u201d said Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), who cast his vote in favor of Florio and Sandoval. Citing his background as a consumer advocate while working as senior attorney for The Utility Reform Network, Florio replied that the CPUC needs to focus on \u201chow to get the work done with less\u201d spending and rate hikes and \u201ctreat the customers\u2019 money as if it\u2019s our own.\u201d Sandoval said the CPUC needs to review rates to make sure that inland residents are not unfairly penalized because they live in a hot climate. She also voiced skepticism about the applicability of time-of-use electricity rates--in which customers pay more during peak demand periods--for businesses that cannot easily shift their energy use, such as farms. Both appointees pledged to focus more commission attention on inland areas dominated by Republicans. For instance, Florio called for getting utilities to do more marketing of energy efficiency programs in the hot inland areas they tend to represent, instead of focusing largely on cooler coastal areas where Democrats tend to dominate. He further pledged to hold meetings in the San Joaquin Valley and other parts of the state in response to complaints by legislators, like Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), that the commission is too \u201cSan Francisco-centric.\u201d Lawmakers also grilled the CPUC appointees on their commitment to consumers, transparency, energy efficiency, and worker training. The two commissioners pledged to protect consumers. Sandoval added she was concerned about the dearth of utility program benefits, including energy efficiency, for renters. Steinberg criticized the commission for its lack of transparency, including its practice of deeming confidential safety information related to the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno (see sidebar). \u201cWe have fallen down in the past,\u201d Florio responded. \u201cWe should establish categories of information that should be automatically public,\u201d he said, in place of the current practice of favoring secrecy. The committee chair also raised concerns about the cost of the governor\u2019s renewed commitment in his Jan. 18 State of the State address to 20,000 MW of new renewable energy (see story page 8). In attempting to understand whether new solar, wind, or other alternative power contracts are reasonably priced, Steinberg asked Florio and Sandoval to explain why they disagreed on whether to approve a $1.25 billion solar thermal deal between Pacific Gas & Electric and Abengoa (Current, Nov. 11, 2011). The chair said he was perplexed that Sandoval supported the deal and Florio opposed it, although the two are aligned on consumer protection. Sandoval said she considered the value of the project, including its ability to provide power at times of peak demand. She also pointed out that the deal had been in the works for five years. \u201cWe need a predictable and timely procurement process,\u201d she said. Florio emphasized the difficulty of quantifying renewable project benefits and costs, including those associated with integrating large amounts of intermittent renewable power into the grid. \u201cIt is hard to get a handle. We are going somewhere we have never been before,\u201d he told the committee. However, he added that renewable energy projects being planned today have fallen in price and are approaching \u201cgrid parity,\u201d meaning they are almost on par with the cost of conventional fossil-fuel generation. Lawmakers urged the commissioners to work towards increasing energy efficiency gains, and particularly to help steer private equity money into efficiency programs. \u201cWe should get $10.00 for every $1.00 invested,\u201d said de León, adding the CPUC should work to leverage private dollars to maximize energy efficiency savings. There is a pending proceeding at the commission to assess the investor-owned utility energy efficiency programs for 2013-14. During the hearing, both commissioners also reiterated their support for: -Carefully overseeing enforcement of new gas pipeline safety rules; -Reconsidering Southern California Edison\u2019s controversial transmission project in Chino Hills--part of a new line aimed at bringing wind power from the Tehachapi Mountains into urban Southern California--including a possible new route or putting lines underground in some areas where the transmission towers loom over homes; and -Striving towards a well-trained and well-paid work force.