Like surfers on a good day, energy regulators and lawmakers find themselves paddling in heavy swells these days, be it the rising waters of global warming, higher energy prices, or a decrepit grid. Most are in suits instead of bikinis or baggies. In California, on one board is the California Public Utilities Commission which is poised to ride--watching the horizon to pick the opportune wave. Beached at the Capitol with their boards, Democrats and Republicans want to reel in regulators\u2019 bravado. As the steady steep-faced swells approach--from population and economic growth to the rising price of natural gas for power plants and steel for windmills--there are understandable moments of hesitance, even trepidation. This summer, rising temperatures and energy costs cause both lawmakers and regulators to worry about whether their careers may soon experience a wipe out. Their aims and concerns may differ some, yet it\u2019s hard to blame them with the economy teetering on recession, gasoline prices draining motorists\u2019 pockets, and the state\u2019s coffers running low just as electricity rate increases loom. They fear higher rates will drive businesses away and make it harder for the state to close its budget gap by further eroding tax revenues as they face election runs this fall. But what are the choices? To get to shore you must pick a wave and ride it, or ultimately burn in the sun. When it comes to energy, the CPUC is the bronzed dude(tte). Legislators really can\u2019t touch it, as a constitutional clause keeps it far away from Sacramento. As the CPUC begins paddling in its wetsuit (after all, it is off the shore of San Francisco), its trying to both find a way to invest in the future waves, and stave off the political undercurrent. Regulators and legislators are gripped by cognitive dissonance. They\u2019re attempting to: -Provide more energy for a growing population and economy, while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. -Modernize a long-neglected power industry infrastructure that causes blackouts, but keep electricity rates down. -Get to shore immediately and solve all these issues. When such balance is needed, particularly when the surf gets this heavy, it sometimes takes a Big Kahuna to ride the waves. On the continental U.S., the Big Kahuna is known as the best surfer on the beach, but in Hawaii where the term originated, the Big Kahuna also is known as a \u201cwizard,\u201d or \u201cexpert in any profession.\u201d CPUC president Mike Peevey is California\u2019s Big Kahuna. He\u2019s acted decisively and with a sense of long-term vision. He\u2019s also spending ratepayers\u2019 money like crazy, which draws the ire of legislators on the beach. Some of the programs he\u2019s championed are spending $600 million in a deal with the state university system to develop clean technologies. He\u2019s also a promoter of capping power plant greenhouse gas emissions. Aside from the university deal, most of the CPUC-led programs to invest in the state\u2019s energy future are administered by utilities. \u201cWe work constructively with the Legislature on the vast majority of matters that are of concern to us and to them,\u201d Peevey told Circuit in an email statement. \u201cRegarding the California Institute for Climate Solutions, we are currently in a dialogue with Senator [Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego)] and other Senate members that I believe will end with a constructive resolution of any differences that to date have existed.\u201d However, it hasn\u2019t stopped the presidency of the CPUC from becoming the focal point of legislative concern. Lawmakers are working on a bill that would require the governor\u2019s appointment to that position to be confirmed by state Senate. The measure, AB 1973, also would dilute the power of the CPUC president by clarifying that the agency\u2019s executive director and chief counsel report to the whole commission rather than just the president. Assemblymember Ira Ruskin (D-Los Altos), the measure\u2019s author, maintains the change is needed to reduce the influence of the governor and depoliticize internal staffing and procedures at the commission. Senator Jim Battin (R-Palm Desert) supports the measure, which has passed the Assembly, noting that he finds the commission so unaccountable to the public and elected officials that he once sought to have CPUC members subject to election by the state\u2019s voters. What irks Battin is the CPUC\u2019s tiered rate structure, which is supposed to encourage conservation by charging big residential users of power more than those who use less. Battin, who represents one of the hottest desert areas in the nation, calls it \u201cthe height of social engineering.\u201d What can people in his district do to cut air conditioning power use beyond a point, he asks? Like the surfer judging which swell to ride, the CPUC must act decisively. Hesitance dooms it to failure given the tall nature of the energy waves pounding the California shore. Once it chooses the wave and gets on its board, there\u2019s a balance to ensure fair treatment of utility ratepayers, shareholders, power providers, environmental groups, and many other constituencies. However, while that presents economic development opportunities, there\u2019s also a riptide of costs. Sidebar: Ring Tone Economy As the state grapples with the cost of energy prices and infrastructure reform, some say we can\u2019t afford it, at least not now. But consider this: Last year U.S. residents spent $13.7 billion on cell phone ring tones, an amount projected to increase to $32.2 billion by 2010, according to Gartner, a leading information technology research firm. The ring tones are played on cell phones that last an average of 18 months, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ring tones are frequently heard in California, even at the mall in Republican Senator Jim Battin\u2019s Palm Desert district, where the cost of power for air conditioning is such a concern. I won\u2019t mention expenditures on Cheese Doodles, in a nation that devotes an increasing amount of its money to fighting diseases caused by obesity.