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CPUC cozies up even closer to for-profit utilities
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The Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco was the setting for a dinner that brought for-profit California utility company fat cats and the upper crust of bureaucrats together.

The coziness of the event probably had California’s legendary reformer Gov. Hiram Johnson spinning in his grave. It was a dinner “celebrating” the 100th anniversary of Johnson’s successful formation of the California Rail Commission that was the predecessor of the California Public Utilities Commission. The rail commission was successfully able to reduce - and almost eliminate - the chokehold that Southern Pacific Railroad at one time had on commerce and individuals in California. The Southern Pacific was essentially a monopoly created via land grants by the federal government with the building of the transcontinental railroad.

One would think that average Californians freed from the tyranny of a for-profit railroad that once had control over previous generations by essentially owning the California Legislature would be the ones that bought the tickets.

The meal though was a bit too pricey for their blood.

Instead the $20,000 tables were sold to big companies who happen to be the likes of PG&E, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison.

Celebrating the commission’s 100th anniversary was actually the secondary reason for the dinner. Its primary purpose was to raise money to reward “deserving” CPUC staffers and provide other funds to allow the regulatory commission’s voting members to hob nob with the rich and powerful that they regulate plus educate the rest of us on how all of the reform groups are unfairly painting the CPUC for being a spineless oversight commission that is riddled with inbreeding such as former head honchos of the very utilities that the CPUC is charged with regulating.

The newly formed CPUC Foundation is the brainchild of none other than former Southern California Edison President Michael Peavey who also happens to be the chairman of the CPUC.

It’s akin to having the wolf teaming up with the jackals to guard the hen house.

As a PG&E customer it won’t give you a warm and fuzzy feeling when it comes to future rate increases.

Consider what the CPUC gave PG&E in a rate increase and what PG&E failed to do and how they came back to the CPIUC with another rate increase asking for the same thing as outlined in the following interview:

INTERVIEWER: “The line that exploded last week was laid down in 1948. It was so old that for safety reasons, Pacific Gas and Electric made plans to replace a section of it in South San Francisco just a couple miles away. In 2007, it got rate increases to do the work. According to a consumer watchdog group, PG&E got $5 million for the project, but the group called TURN, The Utility Reform Network, says it never happened.”

MIKE FLORIO, SENIOR ATTORNEY, TURN: “The money is spent on what they call higher-priority work.”

INTERVIEWER: “And what was that?”

FLORIO: “Well, you can’t track the dollars one by one. But we do know that they spent $62 million more on management incentive bonuses than they had forecasted in 2009”.

: “Mike Florio is a senior attorney for the watchdog. He says PG&E spent the money dedicated to replace the pipeline. So, it is now seeking rate increases again - another $5 million to replace the same stretch of pipeline. And how do you know this?”

FLORIO: “Because it’s right in the documentation they file with the PUC to support the rate cases. You know, it’s - if you dig deep enough into these big, thick documents, this is what you find.”

As depressing as that exchange is - and it isn’t the only instance of PG&E getting a rate increase for work and then not doing it - there is hope.

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed Florio to the CPUC.

Maybe, just maybe, the $20,000 a table event may have been the last supper for cronyism that has turned the CPUC into a geriatric lapdog for the Big Three of California for-profit utilities.