Dana Appling made no New Year\u2019s resolutions. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates director renewed her previous commitments to continue to bolster the agency\u2019s visibility and clout to better protect ratepayers in California. \u201cWe give voice to the utility customers,\u201d she says. \u201cOur mission is to make sure ratepayer money is not spent inefficiently, or used to just line shareholder pockets.\u201d Although DRA\u2019s protests have become more forceful during Appling\u2019s tenure, the agency does not hold much sway over the commission. Appling is unfazed by the agency\u2019s score. \u201cWe keep getting up,\u201d she said. \u201cIt would be worse without us.\u201d Part of what keeps her and her staff going is remembering to take pride in small victories. That includes the results from efforts begun shortly after her appointment to increase staff morale and strengthen its voice. When she arrived at the agency in mid-2004, the employees suffered serious morale problems. The department\u2019s voice was muted by diminished resources and lack of independence. \u201cWe were called TURN II,\u201d Appling said, noting how the agency played second fiddle to the independent consumer advocate The Utility Reform Network. The state ratepayer advocate director prior to Appling\u2019s appointment was seldom seen, the number of staff plummeted, and the agency had no budgetary independence. Appling successfully pushed legislation to prohibit regulators from raiding DRA staff. During her first year on the job in 2004, she also successfully got legislation passed that gave the division a budget that was separate from the California Public Utilities Commission\u2019s. In addition, she was able to get legislative approval to have her own chief counsel, and not one that had to serve two masters. Previously, the division\u2019s top lawyer also reported to the more powerful CPUC president. The commission decides the parameters of the utilities\u2019 world when it casts votes, and its president sets the CPUC agenda. The DRA, in contrast, strives to influence policy but has no voting power. Although unfazed, the state consumer advocate is still the underdog. \u201cThey have got to hear us,\u201d Appling maintained. Recently, DRA vigorously objected to the CPUC\u2019s lowering the bar on investor-owed utilities\u2019 energy efficiency incentive awards. Regulators\u2019 4-1 vote approved a non-refundable payment of $82 million for unverified energy savings. The agency also unsuccessfully opposed the decision approving San Diego Gas & Electric\u2019s $2 billion Sunrise Powerlink transmission project. The votes, with commissioner Dian Grueneich the sole dissenter, were cast at the CPUC\u2019s last 2008 meeting (Circuit, Dec. 19, 2008). Regulators speak at times with forked tongues, according to Appling. While professing support for ratepayer protections, they turn around and vote against their ratepayers interests. \u201cI am not interested in the speeches. I am interested in the vote,\u201d she stated. Another key concern for Appling is the lack of transparency in energy deals approved by the commission--an interest shared by both independent generators and the media. Transparency is the soul of a true competitive market, she says. Competition in her book involves \u201ceveryone being informed of everything.\u201d She also worries about a lack of checks and balances on costly infrastructure projects and the push to create a carbon cap-and-trade market. Regulators support for tens of billions of dollars in utility capital expenditures for smart meters, new transmission, renewable projects, efficiency measures, and other infrastructure improvements, is taking a toll on ratepayers, Appling maintains. The investments increase utilities\u2019 rate base and provide double-digit rates of returns to shareholders. Ratepayers foot the bill and questions linger over how the costs stack up against ratepayer benefits. For example, gas and water utilities are pursuing cost recovery for installations of advanced meters for gas and water supplies and services. Appling said that much of any savings attributed to gas and water meters largely will be limited to utility operational savings by eliminating gas and water meter readers. The DRA head is not against developing a carbon trading scheme, but she takes issue with the lack of a comparative analysis by the commission and Air Resources Board. The CPUC recommended that the Air Board develop a carbon market to help reach the state\u2019s emissions reduction mandate under AB 32, California\u2019s climate protection law. That law requires emissions be cut 30 percent by 2020. Much of the cuts--40 percent or more--are expected to come from the electricity sector. Appling said there must be an objective verification of the \u201cneed for a market and justification of its cost\u201d--particularly given the national and global failure of the so called \u201cfree market.\u201d If a market scheme is launched, she urges regulators to keep their hands in it to keep gaming at bay and thwart market failures. California is developing a region-wide carbon market with seven western states and four Canadian provinces under the auspices of the Western Climate Initiative Appling\u2019s strategic plan also involved improving the work product of her agency to replace conclusory pleadings with higher quality and more in depth arguments. DRA staff also began showing up on the commissioners\u2019 fifth floor offices to advocate for consumer protections. They were seldom seen in the commission offices earlier. Appling has been at the helm of DRA for four-and-a-half years. She was appointed to the post by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and does not have a set term. If her advocacy displeases the governor, he can fire her at will. However, she said the governor\u2019s office \u201cpretty much leaves me alone.\u201d She wants to see more conservation and demand response to help stem the tide of climate change and increased energy use. However, she is not a fan of mandatory rules that would charge people more for energy used during times of high use. The key, she said, is massive consumer education to help ensure that everyone is informed.