From TURN’s ED—January 2005

Fall is always a season of transition, and this year is no exception on any number of fronts for TURN and our members.

Despite continuing to be massively outnumbered and outspent by the utilities, TURN is achieving remarkable successes both at the CPUC and in Sacramento. Whatever challenges the future holds, TURN will face them with a team whose first priority has been and always will be promoting and protecting the interests of California consumers.

In Sacramento, the California Legislature has finished its 2003-2004 session, but one of its best efforts, AB 2006, (Speaker Fabian Nez, D-Los Angeles) has fallen victim to the Governor’s veto. Assembly Bill 2006 is the bill that TURN and other consumer groups worked to transform from an ill-thought-out attempt to revive “direct access” into a bill that set a constructive and responsible energy policy for the state’s future, providing for regulatory oversight, resource adequacy planning, building new generation at the lowest possible cost to customers and protecting against market manipulation

Consumers responded to TURN’s campaign to convince Governor Schwarzenegger to sign the bill with a massive outpouring of postcards and e-mails. But his energy policy, incredible as it may seem, is to push for more deregulation regardless of the harm to consumers.

Generators like Calpine Corporation that will profit from poor planning and the resultant inadequate energy supplies opposed AB 2006. Large customers like those in the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group who want to lower their rates by raising residential rates also lobbied against the it. Even though their interests are diametrically opposed to the majority of Californians, they alone have the Governor’s ear. TURN’s attempts to meet with the Governor to explain why AB 2006 would be beneficial for the entire state, rather than a few special interests, were rebuffed. Governor Schwarzenegger’s one-sided approach of bringing representatives of big businesses and large customers to the table and shutting out consumers sets the stage for some major policy battles in the future.

Term limits will also bring changes to Sacramento. Three stalwarts in the state Senate are “termed out” as of the end of 2004: John Burton (D-San Francisco), Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto) and John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose). While over the years TURN has had our differences with each of them, these three Bay Area representatives developed excellent track records on utility and consumer issues. We hope their replacements will follow in their footsteps.

Closer to home (or at least TURN’s San Francisco home), the Public Utilities Commission is about to bid farewell to Gray Davis appointees Carl Wood and Loretta Lynch. Both have uneven track records. While often taking positions consistent with the interests of consumers, each strayed from the course at important times. But given the firmly pro-business agenda that the other three Commissioners display, consumers are likely to miss Commissioners Wood and Lynch and their commitment to effective regulation of companies that provide essential services. Governor Schwarzenegger will have an opportunity to make good on his rhetoric to ensure that his administration serves the interests of ALL Californians when he appoints their replacements. But in light of his response to AB 2006, we fear consumers may be facing an increasingly unfriendly CPUC. Stay tuned!

Through all of this change, I’m very pleased to report that TURN’s committed staff continues to perform at a level that simply amazes. Despite continuing to be massively outnumbered and outspent by the utilities, TURN is achieving remarkable successes both at the CPUC and in Sacramento. As you read the remainder of this newsletter, never lose sight of the fact that the achievements described would never have occurred but for TURN’s dedicated staff. It’s good to know that whatever challenges the future holds, TURN will face them with a team whose first priority has been and always will be promoting and protecting the interests of the state’s consumers.

Sincerely,

Executive Director
Bob Finkelstein