News Roundup: CPUC Rejects Director’s Whistleblower Claim

By Published On: August 27, 2020

The California Public Utilities Commission is refuting claims by its embattled executive director that she has been illegally forced out. Alice Stebbins dismissal is be discussed at an Aug. 31 public Commission hearing. She was placed on indefinite leave Aug. 4.

The attorney representing the state agency claims in a letter that Stebbins “engaged in a pattern of circumventing rules [in order] to hire former colleagues, who were not the most qualified, and to unduly increase” the compensation of her assistant by 49%. The Aug. 25 letter was sent to Stebbins’ attorney Karl Olson.

Olson says Stebbins is being pushed out for urging the collection of $200 million in overdue utility debts and to clean up CPUC protocol compliance.

The letter from agency attorney Susanne Soloman with Liebert Cassidy Whitmore insists none of the commissioners blocked Stebbins’ efforts to collect utility bills nor interfered with her work. It also rejects the claim that private commission meetings to discuss Stebbins’ involuntary leave, possible termination of employment, and a state reporting faulting a handful of Stebbins’ hires, violated the Bagley Keene open meetings law.  

The CPUC is authorized to discuss administrative issues behind closed doors, Soloman wrote. 

A State Personnel Board report charged Stebbins with nepotism in hiring but also took the CPUC to task for lacking an anti-nepotism policy.

Stebbins is an at-will employee who may be terminated by the commission, Soloman concludes.

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The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has revealed ongoing methane leaks from one of its compressor stations. The Valley Generating Station is leaking 100 kilograms of methane per hour, levels not requiring permitting, DWP stated Aug. 26.

According to the Sierra Club, the compressor is leaking the climate equivalent of 30,000 cars. The utility told Reuters that the leak is dwarfed by the emissions of the largest gas accident in U.S. history from the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field beginning in 2015.

The leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, were discovered by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during aerial monitoring in the early afternoon on July 16 and Aug. 7. They were reported to LADWP Aug. 21. The lab also reported it discovered leaks in 2017.

Methane leaks also were revealed in a Spring 2020 report, which led LADWP to schedule repair work. Repairs are not expected to be done before November, when necessary parts are to arrive along with potentially cooler weather.

The Los Angeles gas compressor Valley station fuels three department coastal power plants, which run as needed, including for voltage support.

The 650 MW Valley station was overhauled in 2015, with piston seals replaced to cut leaks, according to LADWP.

California’s methane emissions reduction goal is set at 40% percent below 2013 levels by 2030. A 2016 report by the propulsion lab study found emissions from methane point sources about 34% to 46% of the state’s methane inventory for 2016.

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Marin Clean Energy’s financial rating was raised to BBB+ from BBB on Aug. 25. Fitch Ratings made the favorable adjustment based on increased cash flow and liquidity.

Improved ratings lower agencies borrowing costs.

“This upgraded credit rating allows MCE to better serve our customers by increasing access to cost-competitive energy pricing, helping keep rates stable and competitive, while offering a diverse suite of customer programs and services,” Dawn Weisz, MCE chief executive officer, said.

Fitch noted that Marin expanded its territory to include Contra Costa County, and its “robust operating margins and liquidity” are expected to increase over the next three years.

A drawback is that although it has retained 86% of its customers, they can always return to Pacific Gas & Electric. In addition, its rates have exceeded PG&E’s because of the CPUC exit fee, known as the Power Cost Indifference Adjustment.

Marin, which is California’s first community aggregator to be formed after enabling legislation, also was the first of the group to receive a credit rating. Moody’s in May 2018 gave it an investment-grade credit rating of Baa2. Fitch rated it for the first time in August of last year.

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