Peevey Headed for Second CPUC Term

By Published On: December 18, 2009

Two weeks before his term expired, the state Senate voted nearly unanimously to confirm California Public Utilities Commission president Mike Peevey to a second six-year term December 17. The sole dissenter was Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter), who has complained to Peevey about the rising costs said to be linked to so-called “smart meters” newly installed in the Central Valley. The day before, the Senate Rules Committee recommended Peevey’s reconfirmation on a 5-0 vote after hearing from a long line of supporters Although there was no outright opposition to the reconfirmation, both the Senate President pro Tem and a consumer advocate raised concerns about limiting public input into commission processes during Peevey’s tenure. After questioning the regulator about the rise of the use of advice letters and expanded use of the consent calendar to speed up decision making, Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), Senate President pro Tem, told Peevey to be “sensitive to consumer issues.” Steinberg, who is also the committee chair, added, “There is no question that you are a leader and that you ruffle some feathers.” He called on Peevey to use his commission pulpit to promote a green energy job curriculum and work force training at the high school level to help lower the state’s drop out rate. “Make one of your causes” tapping of public goods money for “career pathways for kids who need the opportunity and California that needs a high skilled workforce for a green economy,” Steinberg said. Peevey agreed, noting California has to nurture and promote the green jobs sector. The CPUC president also acknowledged the challenge of reducing carbon emissions in the state and growing renewable supplies. He added that the key issues being debated “7,000 miles away” in Copenhagen are at the heart of the state’s energy and economic challenges. Protests over higher utility bills following the installation of “smart” meters in the Central Valley also came up at the hearing. “There are no little gnomes in the meters that change the numbers,” Peevey said in response to the criticism. Separately, Florez insisted that Peevey ensure a “transparent and robust examination” of Pacific Gas & Electric’s smart meter system. In a December 16 letter, the senator--who held hearings following a rash of constituent complaints about higher bills following the installation of new meters--took issue with PG&E failing to provide meter testing results and the CPUC not requiring nor having in hand the utility’s test findings. Peevey’s current term expires at the end of this year. He had to be confirmed before the end of the year to serve another term. Commission member Rachelle Chong did not get a confirmation hearing because of what Steinberg, other committee members, and consumer advocates considered her anti-consumer votes on telecommunication issues. When a Republican colleague complained about Chong being denied a confirmation hearing, Steinberg said previous Senate heads had not held hearings on gubernatorial nominees in a state chief’s last year. That allowed the incoming governor to appoint his allies to the commissions and other posts.

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