TURN demands recusal of biased CPUC President
Consumer advocates are accusing the head of the powerful California Public Utilities Commission of bias in a dispute over whether a $150 million project at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory is something utility customers should pay for.
The idea, it turns out, originated with commission President Michael Peevey, who then assigned himself as the commissioner presiding over the approval process, The Utility Reform Network charged in papers filed with the CPUC on Thursday.
There is nothing to suggest anything illegal occurred, but TURN argues Peevey’s involvement from the beginning of the project’s development creates a situation where he should not vote on it or preside over the approval process.
“This has every chance of being just a huge waste of taxpayer money,” said TURN general counsel Bob Finkelstei. “He’s not going to be capable of giving it a fair hearing.”
In an emailed statement, Peevey said the commission would consider TURN’s request.
“I and my fellow commissioners will objectively look at the issue and make our own determinations regarding what we each believe is appropriate for the proceeding,” Peevey said.
At issue is a $150 million, five-year project called the California Energy Systems for the 21st Century Project. The project would be performed at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and funded by customers of California’s big three utilities—PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas &
Electric. Customers of PG&E, the most supportive of the three utilities, would pay 55 percent of the project’s costs, according to regulatory filings.
The idea is to bring the supercomputing capabilities at the lab to bear on emerging energy problems. The project would focus on cybersecurity, planning for electrical needs, better understanding of electrical and gas operations and preparing utilities’ workforce.
“This issue should not distract attention from the merits of the proposal, which would give California’s investor-owned utilities access to the national lab’s supercomputing capabilities and analytical expertise to help the state modernize its power grid and better implement its ambitious clean-energy policies,” said PG&E spokesman Jonathan Marshall.
TURN on Thursday released documents it obtained through a public records request that showed Peevey pushed for the initiative from the beginning.
“He solicited the initial proposal from LLNL, he was provided ongoing updates as to the discussions and negotiations between LLNL and the utilities regarding the status of the proposal, he received PG&E’s first draft of the application at the same time (if not before) the other utilities were provided that draft, and, when the efforts had bogged down, he urged the parties to complete the effort and present an application to the commission as soon as possible,” TURN said in a regulatory filing Thursday.
TURN and other consumer advocates have objected to the initiative for a number of reasons, saying the plan’s goals are overly vague and that utility customers may already be paying for similar projects. And they object to the timing of the project—coming not during an overall review of rates that is conducted every three years but instead coming up for consideration separately.
The development is the latest in a run of conflicts between Peevey, a former utility executive, and consumer advocates who contend he is not tough enough on his former industry. Most recently, TURN and others criticized Peevey for appointing himself to preside over a high-profile investigation into PG&E’s failures leading up to the 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno. TURN and others contend Peevey bears blame because PG&E’s failures occurred on his watch as the commission’s head.