In another light business meeting agenda that was still heavy with discussion about future policies, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Thursday okayed more than $600 million collectively for the state's four major investor-owned utilities to support two ongoing low-income customer programs, while it held back on two other issues that impact consumer advocates and the state's largest industrial customers.
All the actions were taken on a unanimous 4-0 vote for the five-member CPUC, which is awaiting a fifth member nominee from California's governor. The decision on the low-income funding was the first action sponsored by the CPUC's newest member Dian Grueneich, a former energy attorney who used to appear in CPUC and state energy commission cases.
California's major energy utilities -- Southern California Edison Co., Southern California Gas Co., San Diego Gas and Electric Co. and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. -- operate two low-income programs, the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) and Low-Income Energy Efficiency (LIEE). Thursday's action allotted monies to both for each utility as follows:
This decision approves the 2005 CARE and LIEE budgets for the four utilities, said Grueneich, noting that for the first time migrant farm worker housing will be included in the CARE program under a new state law (AB 868). "We're hoping to have significant expansion of these programs in 2005; for example, Edison plans to more than double the households it serves, and both Edison and PG&E will continue to subsidize air conditioning bills at community centers that serve low-income populations."
On the issue of consumer group intervenor funding, for which California has been one of the leading states in providing such funding from utilities in cases where the outside groups prove they have made "substantial contributions" to utility ratepayer savings, the CPUC rejected an administrative law judge's recommendation and shaved hundreds of thousands of dollars off an award being sought by the statewide utility consumer group, TURN (The Utility Reform Network). In taking the action, the CPUC regulators again talked about the need to review the state commission's current rules for intervenor funding with an eye toward streamlining and updating them.
TURN had sought more than $1 million for its role in a legal challenge of a CPUC settlement decision in which it ultimately lost in the state Supreme Court; so the CPUC decided to award $389,000. "TURN in no way contributed to the settlement of which it disapproved," said Commissioner Geoffrey Brown. "It cannot turn its noncontribution into a contribution." All the commissioners said they favored intervenor funding programs and applaud TURN's work, but on this case, the group didn't deserve the larger award.
Finally, on the issue of critical peak pricing rates for this summer, the CPUC, with its President Michael Peevey leading the way, decided there was not enough time before June 1 to allow new rates to be understood and adopted by large electricity users in time to have an impact on further reducing peak-demand use this summer. So it decided to forego adopting new default rates for customers using 200 kW or more of power, and use the experience this summer to craft "a comprehensive rate design reform" to be implemented for the summer of 2006.
"I still believe a change in the default rate structure for large customers is a good idea," Peevey said. "If done right, it should spur additional demand response and investment in long-term energy efficiency by businesses. However, the proposals before us for this summer need further refinement."
Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report
may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any
form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.