Regional perspectives needed on CPUC - Carlos Villapudua

Source: Tracy Press

By: Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua

Warming weather in the San Joaquin Valley used to mean going to the annual asparagus festival, Stockton Heat games and car shows. Due to the global pandemic, housing and unemployment crises, catastrophic wildfires and energy shortages during heat waves, traditional events and daily life for Stockton residents have not been the same.

As with the effects of the pandemic, summer electricity bill impacts are harder on some more than others. Communities on the coast have a very different experience because temperatures are more moderate, and they can cool their homes by simply opening their windows. It is also common for houses to lack central cooling altogether due to the rarity of extreme heat events. These geographic imbalances are often even more strongly felt in communities of color. It is through this geographic, economic and equity lens that I introduced AB 1471, which is needed to recognize diverse perspectives in regulatory decisions that affect how energy is delivered to households in California. My bill will do just that, and I am proud to announce that today it unanimously passed the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, a key hurdle on the way to becoming law.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is charged with overseeing and regulating the state’s utilities, including the purchase of energy from renewable sources, rate-setting that directly determines how much consumers will pay, and low-income and other customer assistance programs designed to assist economically challenged households. These are policies that affect the pocketbooks of all Californians differently. I believe this powerful governing body cannot adequately respond to the needs of our entire state when its Commissioners and staff predominately hail from the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the wealthiest and temperate regions in the state. It is also important to note that several other state energy boards require diverse geographic and/or professional experience, except the CPUC. That has to change.

AB 1471 will consider that of the five CPUC Commissioners there should be at least one resident of Northern California, one resident of Central California, and one residing in Southern California. If the CPUC is not properly representative of our unique communities, then how can they represent our different environments? Our energy needs are as diverse as our demographics and geographies, and our utility regulators should reflect that. AB 1471 would align the composition of the CPUC with similar state agencies that regulate and develop energy and natural resources rules, such as the California Air Resources Board, the California Energy Commission, and the State Water Resources Control Board. These entities have requirements that their commissioners’ qualifications include a regional perspective or specific professional experience. Significantly, a diverse perspective on the CPUC would ensure the voices of our Central Valley, which comprise some of the state’s most underserved communities, are heard. We deserve to have a seat at the table.

Since the CPUC’s establishment in the early 1900s, 99 Commissioners have served or currently serve on the CPUC. Nearly half have been from Northern California, including approximately one-quarter of whom were from the San Francisco Bay Area. It is very disappointing that in the past 26 years, there has not been a single CPUC appointee from the San Joaquin Valley, a rural town, or a low-income or underrepresented community. Without AB 1471, the CPUC will continue to lack well-rounded perspectives to ensure regulatory decisions don't shift costs from the haves to the have-nots.

Not only is AB 1471 fair and equitable, but it is also a sustainable way to regulate. This bill is important because diversity of thought based on regions means the CPUC’s decisions can better reflect underrepresented communities.

We are living in a time when policies need to be supportive of the recovery of families and small businesses. Our neighbors should not have to choose between feeding their family or cooling their home in this record heat. Therefore, it is imperative that the state guarantees representation from the Central Valley in the regulatory decisions that affect us. As we urgently seek to mitigate the impact of climate change, now more than ever, it is essential that the CPUC reflects California’s diversity so that no community is ignored or harmed.