California should not merge its major energy-related agencies into one state energy department, the outgoing head of the California Energy Commission (CEC) told NGI last Monday. Currently, there is little overlap between the CEC and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Jackie Pfannenstiel said.

Over the CEC’s 30-plus-year history there have been routine proposals to merge it with the CPUC and other state units, the most recent advocated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (see Power Market Today, Aug. 25, 2005).

“I am old enough to have seen many organizational proposals and the one most recently [by Schwarzenegger] like every reorganizational proposal had good ideas inherent in it, along with some problems,” said Pfannenstiel, who ends her five-year CEC term Tuesday. She served her last two years as chairperson.

“For a very large part of our respective missions [at the CEC and CPUC], there isn’t a lot of overlap,” she said. “The CPUC does financial regulation of utilities; we do power plant siting and energy efficiency standards. There are areas where we overlap, but I think the solution is to clarify those areas — not reorganize. I don’t think we want to be conflicted or redundant in anything that we do, but this doesn’t argue for a single agency.”

Having downplayed the merger idea, Pfannenstiel said she would support efforts to give “greater levels of responsibility” to the CEC. She would like to see the governor or the legislature give the CEC responsibility for “environmental siting” for power transmission lines as it does for power generation sites.

“It is part of the same responsibility we have now for generation,” Pfannenstiel said. “That would make sense, and if there were other areas where the energy commission’s role would make sense, it could be a valuable contribution.”

Her argument is that making any of these changes could be done without fundamentally creating a new state department.

With the advent of the state’s climate change law (AB 32), isn’t California facing a lot more overlap between the CEC and CPUC?

“It could,” Pfannenstiel acknowledged. “If somebody had the wisdom and authority, they could look at the areas of overlap and decide which agency does what — keeping the CPUC doing financial and the CEC doing energy policy — then I don’t think it would be that hard to figure that out.”

All of this develops over time, and transmission is a good example, she said. The CPUC was given part of the oversight for new transmission because of its financial regulatory responsibilities, but “in fact, the CPUC doesn’t have financial regulatory responsibility for transmission; that is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Pfannenstiel said.

“What happens is that it becomes just an environmental regulatory responsibility, which is just what our power plant siting is. So it becomes logical that it be placed at the energy commission.”

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