The year brings a new governor and a new California Public Utilities Commission. Now, regulators are evenly divided between two who lean toward consumer interests--Mike Florio and Catherine Sandoval--and two who focus on investors. A fifth commissioner has yet to be appointed. The new commissioners' inclinations could indicate a bent for what used to be regular old regulation. What became a pejorative during the 1990s--"command & control"--might become a fresh take on regulation in 2011. It'll just have a new moniker. A little history: A decade prior to deregulation, the commission often demanded that investor-owned utilities obey regulations that steered towards the public's favor. For instance, if utilities were suspected of money mismanagement that overcharged ratepayers, the commission dragged them through reasonableness reviews. Before deregulation, those reviews were common. Utilities were supposed to act in the public's interest, as well as that of stockholders. They provide a complicated and necessary public service. They are usually paid back quite well for that feat. Up to, and during, deregulation, market-driven stakeholders saw the "command" commission as an adversary. The old-fashioned CPUC was held in derision. Companies looking to participate in a deregulated market scoffed at the pre-deregulation commission using "command and control" as shorthand for "ridiculous micromanagement." During the 2000-01 energy crisis, the commission was between a rock and a padded space to park investor funds. The commission then opened up to Wall Street. In the sudden whoosh of deregulation's financial disaster, the CPUC made every effort to shore up utilities with ratepayers' financial backing as well as the state's own part in using the Department of Water Resources to support new, suddenly expensive, procurement. Consumer electricity prices rose 40 percent from 2001 to 2003 in my northern region of the state. In San Diego Gas & Electric's territory, it was a far steeper increase. At the same time the CPUC started focusing on investors, it became shy of the public--like shutting off its 235-space public parking garage. Members of the public who visited the commission used to be able to grab a space in terminally parking-less San Francisco for a few hours. Blaming it on a bomb threat, the commission closed the public parking lot to all but the exalted. Coincidentally, public discourse appeared sideswiped. Fifteen years later a new, and wary, economy welcomes regulators. But, the catch phrase is now avoiding "regulatory uncertainty." That harkens back to "command and control." I imagine financial institutions are intimidated by the new commission's two-new-member twist. Wall Street would be concerned that Florio and Sandoval would favor consumers over shareholders. After all, Florio spent his career as a consumer advocate for The Utility Reform Network. It's not my imagination when I note that utilities are bound to assault the new commission with charges of "regulatory uncertainty." For instance, in the current year's quarterly financial reports coming in just now from companies doing energy business in California, I'm seeing more alarmist hints of national "regulatory uncertainty." Wall Street--that is, big investors--gets palpitations over all the scary things it wants to flee. Investors like their regulated utilities to be warm, padded, clubby places to put funds. Places with "regulatory uncertainty" spook them. Over the last decade, commissioners addressed that by increasing trips to Manhattan to appease financial institutions. The now-two remaining commissioners, Tim Simon and Mike Peevey, were active on Wall Street. In contrast, at the beginning of their business meetings at home in San Francisco, commissioners seemed uncomfortable and sometimes combative with citizens who provided input during two-minute public comments. Instead of the traditional regulatory oversight that allowed utilities a "fair" return on investments, Wall Street's "certainty" demands that utilities be favored. Otherwise, investors threaten they cannot borrow money. In other words, investors require a commitment by California to pay handsomely for any funds loaned to utilities to keep them in business. In the last few years, California utility investors are allowed up to an 11.5 percent rate of return on their money. Today the new CPUC has an opportunity to please financial institutions while keeping utilities doing what they do best--delivering energy. The new commission also has the opportunity to open itself back to the public in more than a perfunctory manner. The unknown is scary. Like a big dark underground parking garage with its greasy atmosphere, shrieking tires, and a $25\/day charge. A few priorities for a more consumer-friendly commission: Devise a method for consumers to opt out of digital meter installation. It's clear that many don't appreciate "smart" meters--at all. Create an energy efficiency program that works for consumers, with moderate, and justified, rewards for utilities. Respect calls for the old-fashioned "needs assessment" before granting new power plant investments. That way, consumers are less likely to be saddled not only with the cost of return-on-investment, but have cleaner air and less-cluttered vistas. And, open the state-owned garage in the CPUC basement to the public after a decade of privilege as a gesture to return the commission back to certainty, control, and embracing both utility and consumer concerns. And fit my neighbors' Camrys next to the Town Cars.