One dedicated public servant is exiting the California Public Utilities Commission and another is joining it.
The commission was better off for Mark Ferron’s nearly three years in office, and will improve with the addition of Sacramento’s Michael Picker.
After 25 years in banking and finance, Ferron was appointed to the commission by Gov. Jerry Brown in March 2011. He is stepping down before the end of his term for health reasons, and we wish him the best.
Ferron has been a dogged defender of the California Renewable Energy Resources Act, specifically the goal of having utilities increase their use of renewable energy resources to 25 percent by 2016 and 33 percent by 2020.
As he left office, he issued a “final report” that the governor, other commissioners and the public should heed.
He began with a shot at policy failures in the nation’s capital – due “in large part to the obstructionists in the Republican Tea Party and their allies in the fossil fuel industry” – and taking pride in California’s efforts to tackle energy and climate change issues.
But Ferron also targeted the commission itself for a “serious governance problem.” It is not structured to provide effective guidance and oversight to management and staff. He made recommendations for change that are worth considering.
While California remains among leading states for energy efficiency, Ferron believes it has “lost pace with the best” in getting to new levels of energy savings. He had been exploring retrofit strategies for commercial, university, school and hospital buildings, as well as homes.
And he fears that the state will not be bold enough in pursuing “distributed generation” – onsite or small energy systems located close to where energy is consumed, such as rooftop solar – not just transmitting power over long distances.
Picker is well-placed to address these issues. An elected member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District board since 2012 and a senior adviser to the governor for renewable energy facilities for years, he told The Bee editorial board that Gov. Brown tapped him to “make the activities of the commission more accessible to people while preserving legal requirements and public decisionmaking.”
In agreement with Ferron, Picker believes that the commission has become divorced from the operations of the staff and that procedures are all too cumbersome. His main role, coming out of discussions with the governor, is to make the commission more “streamlined, modern, accessible and effective.”
On distributed generation, Picker believes we should not get caught up in a war between utilities, which have an investment in central plants and transmission, and solar installers or advocates of microturbines. As he points out, they need each other for connections to the grid. What we need is a vision of what the grid will look like if we have variable resources and variable demand. How do we fit the pieces together so we have reliable power?
Safety remains a concern that Ferron did not address in his final report and that Picker should. Safety for the CPUC still comes after affordability, energy reliability and environmental concerns.
The CPUC plays an important role in ensuring safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable power, telecommunications and commercial transportation in California. Brown’s appointments of Ferron and Picker will help move this century-old commission into the modern era.
Apr. 19, 2013
Reforming the PUC won't be easy. The 100-year-old agency is embedded in the state constitution. It operates largely independently with very little oversight from either the governor or the Legislature. Also, following energy deregulation and the breakup of the railroad industry, PUC's mission has become somewhat muddled. A clunky bureaucracy originally designed to regulate railroads is ill-equipped to address the rapidly changing technology in energy generation and telecommunications.
The Legislature might best reform this institution by creating a blue-ribbon commission to examine both the PUC's mission and its governance structure.
Dec. 9, 2012
The [Little Hoover Commission] report suggests the need for a California energy secretary who would be responsible for energy-related decisions. In our view, adding a new layer of governance without consolidation makes little sense. That can't be done without overhauling the California Public Utilities Commission, created by constitutional amendment in 1911. An amendment would be needed to alter the CPUC in any significant way.