The California Public Utilities Commission disapproved--on a 3-2 vote--Pacific Gas & Electric\u2019s proposed $9.9 million ratepayer-funded investment in Silicon Valley solar panel manufacturer SVTC Solar. \u201cIt is a dark day for California,\u201d Mike Peevey, CPUC president, said May 10 after his alternate supporting PG&E\u2019s investment was defeated. The utility investment, he insisted, would help \u201clower barriers to promising technology, bringing solar panel costs closer to parity to traditional solar technologies.\u201d \u201cWe need to be careful stewards of ratepayer money,\u201d said commissioner Mark Ferron, one of the three regulators voting down the investment. Much of the discussion at this week\u2019s meeting in Fresno, where several members of the public complained about high utility bills, was about ratepayers\u2019 financial risk. \u201cI remain deeply skeptical. The fact is, that it\u2019s not a good financial investment for ratepayers,\u201d said Ferron. \u201cRatepayer benefits are tangential,\u201d noted commissioner Catherine Sandoval. She said any lowering of panel costs was \u201cspeculative and far in the future.\u201d The proposed investment was touted by Peevey as one that would return ratepayers\u2019 money and provide a possible return when PG&E sold its stock in the Silicon Valley firm. Peevey acknowledged PG&E\u2019s ratepayer-funded investment via purchase of SVTC preferred stock was \u201cuncommon but not unprecedented.\u201d Under the agreement, PG&E would have categorized the investment as a research and development expense to be recovered from the ratepayer-funded public purpose program being developed at the CPUC, known as EPIC (see page 7). The investment would have absorbed 40 percent of PG&E\u2019s EPIC budget, Ferron pointed out. Commissioner Mike Florio also warned that the investment would cut into the CPUC solar project subsidy under its California Solar Initiative. Last week, SVTC agreed to increase PG&E\u2019s ownership interest in the company from the originally planned 19.7 percent to 25 percent if regulators approved the deal. The solar firm would have landed $30 million in Department of Energy financing if SVTC got matching money from PG&E by June 30. SVTC\u2019s strategy is to set up manufacturing bays that solar developers can use to make their products--after successfully demonstrating them--at a lower cost (Current, May 4, 2012).