Legislation preventing the California Public Utilities Commission from slapping exit fees on public power agency ratepayers who move into newly developed territory was approved by the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee May 2. SB 1554 by Senators Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) and Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks), passed on a 6-0 vote, exempts "greenfield" customers from charges arising from the 2000-01 energy crisis because they never received power or other utility services during that time. "It does nothing but discourage municipal agency growth and economic development in the state," Cox said of the fee, known as the cost responsibility surcharge. His district includes the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. SMUD is attempting to annex its neighbors in Yolo County, who are now served by Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E and Southern California Edison have been fighting numerous expansion efforts by public agencies into undeveloped and developed areas, from Roseville to Corona. Senators Richard Alarc\u00f3n (D-San Fernando Valley) and Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) raised concerns that the legislation could cause cost shifting to investor-owned utility ratepayers. In response, the bill was amended to include a process that would allow PG&E, Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric - all of which oppose the bill - to make a case that they incurred more than minimal costs on behalf of these muni greenfield customers. "I don't want people to spend five cents to collect two cents," Bowen said after agreeing to the provision. The deregulation law gave the CPUC authority to spread out the costs of the utilities' stranded assets, and that authority was expanded during the energy crisis. AB 1x authorized the allocation of the Department of Water Resources' crisis power purchases among the beneficiaries and suspended direct access to thwart cost shifting arising from large energy users entering nonutility contracts. Another bill, AB 117, took the matter one step further, stating that all customers served by the department should bear a "fair share" of DWR's costs. The CPUC then held several proceedings to allocate the exit fee, which also includes PG&E's bankruptcy expenses. It is up to 2.7 cents\/kWh. Bowen said the way state regulators have dealt with muni exit fees - in part by breaking the issue into six proceedings - was "arbitrary and unfair." The CPUC has used the charge to "pick winners and losers, according to its policy preference," noted the committee bill analysis. On one hand, it exempts distributed generation from the fee because the CPUC supports it, but then it applies exit fees "in excess of statutory direction" because it opposes municipal utility expansion, the analysis added. CPUC lobbyist Delaney Hunter warned that an outright ban on exit fees on greenfield customers "would undo the careful, hard-fought work at the commission." Commission president Mike Peevey has complained that his agency lacks the authority to assess the cumulative impacts of muni expansions. The CPUC has sought a sponsor for legislation that would broaden its authority on the subject but has not found any takers yet (Circuit, April 14, 2006). Numerous munis threw their support behind the bill, as did the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association. Up to 10,000 customers in Modesto Irrigation District territory face an additional $4.00 monthly charge as a result of the exit fee, said Chris Mayer, MID's assistant general manager. "The biggest impact is confusing customers. There will be lots of billing inquiries and some righteous indignation," he added. Committee chair Martha Escutia (D-Montebello) required that SB 1554 be sent back to her committee after amendment language is set that outlines a process for the investor-owned utilities to prove that they made investments in the greenfield areas. The same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted out a bill that would require the investor-owned utilities to provide information about ratepayers who quality for the utility bill discounts to requesting county officials. The bill, SB 1496 by Dunn, was introduced to address the refusal of private utilities to provide customer information about those enrolled in the California Alternate Rates for Energy program on confidentiality grounds. County representatives complained about their inability to verify whether struggling ratepayers who live in mobile home parks receive the CARE discount. The bill faced no opposition and passed on a 3-0 vote.