May 24, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

PUC Chief: Likely First Test Of Governor Jerry Brown’s New Term:

How concerned will Gov. Jerry Brown be with the well-being of ordinary Californians in the new term he’s widely expected to win next month (the latest major poll has him leading his opponent by a 54-33 percent margin)? How much will he pander to the interests of large corporations?

The first answer to those questions will come near the end of this year, when Brown either reappoints Michael Peevey to another six-year term as president of the powerful state Public Utilities Commission or jettisons him due to a wide public perception that the commission has become routinely corrupt during Peevey’s 12-year tenure.

Peevey’s presence on the commission, which regulates natural gas and electric utility companies and their rates except where utilities are municipally owned, has long seemed a conflict of interest. A former president of the Southern California Edison Co., he and his commission consistently act in the interests of big utility companies. So he’s been likened to a fox guarding the henhouse (this column first called him that in 2005, three years after his initial appointment to the commission by ex-Gov. Gray Davis).

One reason his career has seemed greased, with nary a problem getting confirmed by the state Senate, is that he’s married to Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu, whose district covers a wide swath of the San Gabriel Valley in suburban Los Angeles County.

There are indications he may again prove immune to the conduct that has surrounded him for years. In one interview this fall, Brown called Peevey “a strong force…I know there’s been a lot poured out on this topic, but I would say he gets things done.”

For many years, Peevey has presided over the nonstop kabuki-like dance performed by the PUC and companies like Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric. This theatrical exercise sees the utilities routinely ask for sky-high rate increases, knowing the PUC will knock it back, but they’ll nevertheless get all they really want and expect each time.

That sort of phony rate regulation has never hurt Peevey, even though it hits hard on most businesses and residents of the state. One reason he’s so secure is that PUC members, once appointed and confirmed, cannot be fired even by the governor who appointed them or any successor. Their terms are all but inviolate, regardless of their performance.

But Peevey is in trouble now. Once it became clear that he informally advised PG&E on how to conduct itself after federal officials first pronounced the company “negligent” and then indicted it for a huge gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno in 2010, he recused himself from further proceedings relating to that blast and the penalties to be exacted on PG&E for it.

He fired his chief of staff when emails revealed “inappropriate communications” between her and PG&E. But does anyone seriously believe a chief of staff would advise a troubled, regulated company without the full knowledge and approval of her boss? Peevey’s staff also allegedly helped PG&E decide which administrative law judge would hear a PG&E rate case deciding how much the company pays for gas pipeline repairs and how much its customers will be assessed. Of course, consumers have paid monthly for gas pipeline maintenance since the 1950s, but PG&E didn’t always use the money for that.

Plainly, the PUC’s civil service lawyers and analysts do not believe Peevey was in the dark on all this. In one September staff meeting, they reportedly demanded he resign, with some likening him to “an untouchable mob boss.”

Brown knows all this. He also knows Peevey consistently refuses to reveal how much some large new solar thermal power plants will cost, even though other commissioners labeled their price tags “exorbitant.” When those plants come online within the next two years electric bills will rise sharply.

But Brown might not mind that. He’s an enthusiastic backer of all sorts of renewable energy projects, which Peevey has pushed hard – one reason why Brown thinks he “gets things done.”

The problem is that most of what Peevey has done favors big corporations at the expense of their customers. If Brown reappoints him, he will be thumbing his nose at every consumer and Peevey would have another six years to coddle the companies he loves to favor.

in Opinion
Related Posts

​​Doubt Removed: Oil Refiners Gouging Us

May 23, 2022

May 23, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist There was some room for doubt back in February, when gasoline prices rose precipitously: Until the...

Is the Big Housing Crunch Mostly Fiction?

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist In some parts of California, there is definitely a housing crunch: small supplies of homes for...

Is Gelson’s Our Future? Bigger Is Not Better & Not Necessary! – Part 2

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

The dream of our beachfront city is about to become a nightmare! Just imagine a tsunami of these projects washing...

Column From Santa Monica Mayor Himmelrich: We Walk the Talk

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

By Sue Himmelrich, Santa Moncia Mayor  I like the SMa.r.t. architects. I often agree with them. But in allowing Mark...

Is Gelson’s Our Future? Bigger Is Not Better!

May 12, 2022

May 12, 2022

It’s appalling to see what’s happening in our city – projects recently built or about to be approved – in...

Renting Your Second Home

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

If you are among the many Americans who own a second home that you occasionally use as a vacation getaway,...

Column: Cities Fight to Maintain Distinctive Characters

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist Anyone who knows California well will realize that Palo Alto does not look much like nearby...

SMa.r.t. Column: Gelson’s, Boxed-In

May 6, 2022

May 6, 2022

This week we are re-visiting an article from 2018 regarding the Miramar project, by simply replacing the word “Miramar” with...

Column: Are You Talking Yourself Out of Saving for Retirement? Here’s How to Break the Habit

May 5, 2022

May 5, 2022

Saving for retirement can be an abstract concept. It’s something we all know we should do, but the farther away...

SMa.r.t. Column: Failure to Plan…

April 30, 2022

April 30, 2022

Over the last approximately two years your City has been busy trying to respond to new California laws that are...

Letter to Editor: Your “Standing Firm With Santa Monica” Initiative

April 25, 2022

April 25, 2022

The following is an open letter to Councilmember Sue Himmelrich from Santa Monica resident Arthur Jeon regarding a proposed transfer...

SMa.r.t. Column: Planning The Real Future

April 24, 2022

April 24, 2022

In the 1970s, renowned USC architecture professor Ralph Knowles developed a method for planning and designing cities that would dramatically...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan: The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 15, 2022

April 15, 2022

Part II: Who pays the proposed transfer tax and where does the money go? Last week, we introduced the proposed...

Column: NIMBYs Getting a Bad Rap

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

By Tom Elias Rarely has a major group of Californians suffered a less deserved rash of insults and attacks than...

SMa.r.t. Column: New City Financial Plan – The Resident Homeowner Bank

April 8, 2022

April 8, 2022

Part 1 of 2 In this two-part article, we will discuss both the proposed transfer tax ballot initiative and the...