Despite the governor\u2019s attempt to ensure continuation of the public goods charge, some stakeholders question the surcharge as duplicative and questions endure over the capacity of state agencies to administer the money wisely. A joint hearing Aug. 31 by the Senate Energy, Utilities, & Communications and Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committees featured two bills to renew and restructure the energy public goods charge on ratepayers\u2019 bills. Members pledged to produce legislation for floor votes within days. Sept. 9 is the legislative deadline for renewing the charge, which expires at the end of this year. The hearing came quickly after Senator Alex Padilla (D-San Fernando Valley) and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) introduced SBX1 28 to renew and restructure public goods charge programs on Aug. 29. An earlier Padilla bill on public goods charges was defeated June 27. This week\u2019s hearing also came after Steinberg introduced a companion measure, SBX1 29, which would require the California Public Utilities Commission to use some of the public goods money to establish a new ongoing building energy efficiency retrofit financing program. Together, the measures are to serve as the legislative vehicle for Governor Jerry Brown\u2019s effort to renew the public goods charge, said lawmakers. The public goods charge levies a small surcharge on monthly power usage, raising the average bill about 1.5 percent. This year the charge is expected to bring in $400 million. The money goes to three separate programs designed to advance energy technology through research, fund renewable power generation system deployment, and pay for building energy efficiency retrofits. Some business representatives said that while the surcharge may be only a few dollars for households, it can tally hundreds of thousands of dollars\/year for businesses whose monthly energy bills are high. They added they\u2019ve seen little benefit from the programs the surcharge funds. Stakeholders also raised a future issue where utilities could gain millions from the state\u2019s proposed carbon cap-and-trade system to use for the same efforts already funded by the public goods surcharge. Such complaints and perceptions have stymied lawmakers in their efforts to renew the surcharge. \u201cRatepayers prefer to see valued added,\u201d said Padilla, kicking off the hearing. Because of these issues, numerous bills to renew the program failed to gain traction in the Legislature over the summer (Current, June 10, 2011). In response, Natural Resources Agency secretary John Laird told lawmakers the Brown Administration\u2019s plan for the program would eliminate duplication and increase the state\u2019s capacity to manage the money. For instance, he said the administration is seeking a new executive director and financial management team for the Energy Commission, which administers research funds raised by the surcharge. Administration officials admitted the program could be improved, but said it still has been a great bargain for the state, saving ratepayers money by funding energy efficiency, creating jobs, and helping establish California as a clean technology sector leader. CPUC commissioner Mark Ferron, an appointed official, for instance, claimed Brown\u2019s legislation would take to the next level programs that have saved consumers $5 billion over the last five years on power bills. Ferron told lawmakers that under the governor\u2019s legislation, the CPUC could create an array of financing programs to help consumers pay for energy efficiency retrofits. Ferron said a number of options are under consideration, including interest rate buy downs, loan guarantees, loan loss reserves, and state loans repaid through property tax assessments. The public goods charge provides the CPUC with $250 million\/year for energy efficiency programs. Under the pending legislation, the California Energy Commission\u2019s Public Interest Energy Research program would be replaced with a new Clean Energy Jobs and Investment program guided by an advisory council. The council would include representatives from a wide array of companies, unions, environmental groups, and government agencies to advise the Energy Commission on how to invest the $75 million\/year raised for research under the public goods charge. The third aspect of the bill, according to Laird, would transform the existing public goods charge-funded Renewable Energy Resources Program to focus it more on energy storage, placing solar systems on state and public buildings, and other steps aimed at integrating renewable energy into the grid at the distribution level. Laird said this program too would be placed under an advisory panel that would establish funding priorities. Renewable energy would receive $75 million\/year under the public goods charge legislation. A long line of business and environmental groups supported the legislation. Only a few opposed it outright, including Southern California Edison and the California Manufacturers & Technology Association. Edison pointed to rate increases attributed to the state\u2019s climate protection law, AB 32, the 33 percent renewable mandate, the phase out of once-through cooled power plants and utility grid upgrades. Doing away with the public goods charge \u201cwould provide some downward pressure on rates,\u201d said Randy Chinn, Edison lobbyist. Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committee chair Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) noted that the ratepayer charge at issue amounts to a 1.5 percent increase while Edison seeks a 17 percent rate hike in its general rate case before state regulators. CMTA vice president Dorothy Rothrock noted that the public goods charge programs are soon to be duplicated and dwarfed in size by the money that pours into utilities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other greenhouse gas cutting programs under AB 32. Under the California Air Resources Board\u2019s program to carry out the law, the state plans to run a carbon cap-and-trade program under which utilities are to get free emissions rights representing the emissions related to the electricity they provide. In turn, they are required to auction these allowances to generators to cover the emissions associated with power they produce. Utilities then are to use the proceeds to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy programs on behalf of their customers to hold power bills down. Senator Rod Wright (D-Inglewood) opposed the legislation, saying he would prefer to see the money go for other purposes that serve his constituents, including home energy retrofits, utility bill relief for poor people, and potentially even gang violence prevention programs, for which funding is tight.