Soapbox

Power board is being ruined in the dark

Electrical power flow and conditions are monitored at the California Independent System Operator grid control center in Folsom on Aug. 18.
Electrical power flow and conditions are monitored at the California Independent System Operator grid control center in Folsom on Aug. 18. Associated Press

A proposal to move decisions about our energy and environmental future from California to Washington, D.C. is gaining traction in the state Capitol, all behind closed doors. The implications would be significant and deserve a thorough public vetting.

 
Opinion

The plan would change the governing board of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the electric transmission grid for nearly 80 percent of California and keeps reliable power flowing to homes and businesses.

Today, board members are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate in a public process to make certain that each nominee recognizes the importance of protecting the environment and of affordable prices for consumers.

Under the proposed change, current board members would choose all future board members. There would be no qualifications, no oversight and applicants could come from anywhere. Removing elected officials from this process and allowing a self-selected group of “experts” to oversee the energy grid would severely diminish public input and accountability. And this decision would be difficult to reverse.

It’s also troubling that the proposal is being discussed in private. Last year, the Legislature rejected a similar, poorly structured proposal that was rushed through the process. This year, proponents are claiming this would be just a small modification to governance. In reality, it would be the first, irreversible step to momentous change that will affect millions of Californians through energy prices and environmental issues such as climate change.

Publicly owned utilities, serving 25 percent of Californians, urge transparency and robust debate. Our focus is controlling costs, providing reliability and environmental leadership. Our governing boards consist of local elected and appointed officials who meet regularly in open meetings. They look out for their community first.

We urge the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to fully divulge the details and impacts of any governance changes. This issue is too important, and risks to the economy and environment are far too great, to circumvent a public process. At the least, this proposal should be brought back in 2018 for further scrutiny.

Barry Moline is executive director of the California Municipal Utilities Association. He can be contacted at bmoline@cmua.org.

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