Jeff McDonald

By Jeff McDonald |
Sept. 11, 2015 – 6:01 p.m.

  • Measures rein in private meetings, establish inspector general

Four bills aimed at reforming the California Public Utilities Commission passed the state Legislature on Friday and are headed to the Governor’s Office for consideration.

One bill bans private communications between utility executives and state regulators during proceedings to set utility rates. Another allows parties to sue the commission in Superior Court when regulators do not respond to public-records requests or they are accused of violating the state open-meetings law.

Other provisions establish an “inspector general” under the state auditor to oversee the commission and require that certain energy contracts and other documents be posted online.

Lawmakers said the legislation would help restore the public’s trust in state regulators.

“Californians pay for the broken culture of the CPUC every day – from higher utility bills to the devastation of safety failures,” said Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, who authored three of the bills. “My proposals, along with those of my Senate colleagues, represent a step toward restoring public confidence in the commission.”

Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who chairs the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, said the ban on so-called ex parte communications in rate-setting cases will help make sure consumers are protected from unwarranted price hikes.

“This measure will now set in place reforms that will strengthen the commission’s ethical behavior, oversight and transparency in dealings with power companies,” he said. “In addition, Senate Bill 660 will provide penalties for violations, all of which I believe will help guide the CPUC toward a culture of openness and accountability.”

Private communications between regulators and the companies they oversee have become a major part of ongoing and separate criminal investigations into commission practices by state and federal prosecutors.

One private discussion set a framework for an agreement that eventually charged customers $3.3 billion of the $4.7 billion in costs related to the 2012 failure of the San Onofre nuclear plant north of Oceanside.

The undisclosed meeting was held in Poland in March 2013, with former commission President Michael Peevey and Southern California Edison Vice President Stephen Pickett. The San Onofre settlement approved by the commission in November contains many of the same elements jotted down on notes from the meeting at the luxury Hotel Bristol Warsaw.

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