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California Lawmakers Push to Reform Utilities Commission

California state senators on Monday unanimously approved SB 48, which seeks to increase oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and reduce the authority of its president following revelations that emerged from e-mails between commission members and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) (see Daily GPISept. 16, 2014).

The proposed bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Hill (D), would require CPUC staff directors to report to the full commission rather than only the CPUC president.

Hill and other lawmakers have several other bills to reform the CPUC. A veteran energy lobbyist in Sacramento told NGI that the legislation will most likely be combined in the coming weeks.

In its current form, SB 48 would grant the California Superior Court jurisdiction over public records requests of the agency and require CPUC administrative law judges (ALJ) to be subject to the same ethical standards that apply to ALJs at other state agencies.

Legislators are seeking reforms following increased scrutiny of the regulatory commission following PG&E's self-reported disclosures that executives sought to influence regulatory policy (see Daily GPIFeb. 12).

Another proposal, SB 660, by state Sen. Mark Leno would eliminate powers of the CPUC president and transfer them to the full five-member regulatory panel, among other things. AB 825 would provide more transparency between the CPUC and companies it regulates, mandating the posting of rate case information on its website and making it more difficult for utilities to make filings, or portions of filings, confidential.

"I don't know if anyone is opposed to the bills," the lobbyist told NGI. His company has taken a neutral position. "We are simply watching them."

Gov. Jerry Brown's call for a 50% renewable portfolio standard through SB 350 has spurred similar bills (AB 645, SB 32, AB 802, and AB 1511), according to the lobbyist.

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