Meter Bill Nixed; Nukes and Earthquakes, Methane Bills Advance

By Published On: April 30, 2005

Except for legislation that would have had power prices rise with demand along with widespread installation of time-of-use meters, it was fairly smooth sailing for energy bills presented to the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee this week. Assemblymember Keith Richman?s (R-Northridge) AB 1009 would have phased in advanced meters for all ratepayers?large and small?and created time-of-use prices, which would reflect higher costs of peak power. Although he agreed at the last minute to voluntary meter installations in retrofitted and new homes in place of an across-the-board mandate to appease ratepayer advocates and utility workers? unions concerned about the high cost of meters, the bill still failed passage. Most large businesses that use 200 kW or more have meters in place. ?They are idiots,? fumed Richman to <i>Circuit</i> after his colleagues rejected his bill. He said AB 1009 would promote much-needed conservation and prod the California Public Utilities Commission to get a move on peak pricing rates. Last week, the CPUC delayed for one year critical peak pricing for large energy customers that use 200 kW to 500 kW (<i>Circuit</i>, April 22, 2005). A two-year pilot project testing different pricing programs by the CPUC, the California Energy Commission, and utilities found that critical peak pricing along with day-ahead notification and ?smart thermostats? decreased home owners? power usage during peak periods by an average 34 percent?and by an average 47 percent on the hottest days?according to the bill analysis. Time-of-use pricing, on the other hand, decreased demand by only 4 percent. Ratepayer advocates and unions adamantly oppose mass meter installations because, they say, they will not result in cost savings. Meters would be required to reap the financial benefits of the administration?s plan to put solar power systems on a million roofs and increase the state?s reliance on renewable and locally produced power. In spite of initial opposition, Richman?s change of heart to allow voluntary metering of small ratepayers was welcome news to ratepayer advocates. The Utility Reform Network is working on a voluntary metering bill, SB 441 by Senator Nell Soto (D-Ontario). That bill would prohibit the CPUC from requiring the universal installation of advanced meters and mandate that the commission prove the meters would result in lower rates for small ratepayers. The investor-owned utilities have requested $120 million for meters for 2005, and the total tab could be a few billion dollars. Included in the bills that the energy committee passed April 25 was one that would require the Energy Commission to assess the impact of an earthquake or other natural disaster on the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and other large generating facilities. ?We have a duty and obligation to be far-thinking,? said Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo), author of AB 1632. Blakeslee represents constituents where Pacific Gas & Electric?s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is located. Passed on an 11?0-vote, the bill would require the Energy Commission to evaluate the safety, economic, reliability, and rate impacts of a major quake. It would also mandate the commission to develop a plan to ensure that the state could meet electricity demand if a major baseload power plant were knocked off line because of a catastrophic event. PG&E was the sole opponent of the bill. The amount of megawatts produced by cow manure would be increased tenfold under a bill passed on an 11-0 vote. Under AB 728 by Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino), an existing biogas digester pilot program set to expire in 2006, backed by a $15 million grant, would be expanded instead of terminated. Chino is home to a plethora of dairy farms. A bone of contention between the large dairy farms and the investor-owned utilities has been the cost of interconnecting the systems that convert manure to electricity. Michael Boccadoro, Agricultural Energy Consumers Association attorney, said the farmers are willing to pay to hook up their biogas digesters to the grid, adding that it was difficult to know when and where the utilities would interconnect projects. There are about 2-3 MW of biogas digesters in Southern California Edison territory and around 2 MW in PG&E territory, according to Boccadoro. Although the bill analysis said there were no data showing that the projects reduced emissions from dairies, a draft CEC study from last November states that baseline emission reductions of 336 tons a year were achieved for methane, 227 tons for ammonia, and 23 tons for nitrogen oxides. PG&E opposed the tenfold expansion of the program, expressing concerns about the methane-powered plants? impacts on safety and reliability. PG&E has made it difficult in the past to hook digesters up to its grid, according to media reports. Two measures passed on consent would require the California Public Utilities Commission to develop a plan to make electronic versions of informal filings publicly available, and allow local agencies to use proposed decisions by the Energy Commission as environmental assessments. AB 1182 by Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) aims to improve public access to informal CPUC filings to increase efficiency, reduce production costs, and increase dissemination of information. The commission has submitted bids for systems that would allow electronic filings for formal matters. The other bill passed on consent would allow local agencies involved in siting cases to rely on CEC findings. AB 1165 by committee chair Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) is aimed at smoothing out the timing of interdependent decisions involving projects seeking permits from the Energy Commission and local agencies. Other legislation passed without opposition would ease noncontroversial transfers of utility property. In place of a full CPUC proceeding, property transfers and sales would be allowed via an approved advice letter under AB 736, also by Levine. A CPUC administrative law judge has proposed an advice letter pilot project under the state Public Utilities Code.

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