Tag Archives: CPUC

Corruption also takes all the fun out of Democracy

27 Nov

Here’s another article regarding legislation shielding PG&E from liability when they cause a wildfire:

https://calmatters.org/articles/newsletters/wm-11-26-2018/

After reading about PG&E’s blatant tampering with the legislature, I had to write a letter to the editor. 

While it has not been proven PG&E caused the Camp Fire, victims are rushing forward to sue the utility giant for the loss of their homes. Meanwhile, a Southern California Legislator seeks legislation that would “help PG&E Corp absorb liabilities from this year’s fatal wildfires in California…”

Assemblyman Chris Holden (Pasadena)  also carried legislation in 2017 that allowed PG&E to sell bonds, backed by ratepayers, to cover their liabilities in the Santa Rosa and other deadly fires. That’s what I would call a “double burn.”

According to Insurance Journal, “Holden’s bill may serve as a framework for lawmakers to consider relief for PG&E from the billions of dollars it faces in potential liability for death and property damage in Northern California’s Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history.”

Holden “is concerned about the instability of the utility and the adverse effect it could have on ratepayers…” More likely he is concerned about the effect it is already having on PG&E shareholders – PG&E shares “plunged by more than half since the Camp Fire broke out…” 

Holden’s 2017 campaign reports show $8800 from PG&E, another $8800 from Edison. Cal Matters reports PG&E spent $6.28 million lobbying the governor, legislators and the California Public Utilities Commission, just in the third quarter of 2018. 

Holden’s new bill will come up in early 2019, needing a 2/3’s majority to pass. Contact your state legislators and tell them, this bill would rip the victims off twice. If PG&E caused these fires, their shareholders need to feel the heat.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Water rates showdown hearing in Sacramento – SoCal water group to take on “four corporate monopoly providers” – get involved!

14 Mar
2802049_2_20180311

James Marvin Bouler

My friend Jim Bouler passed away last week, his funeral is today in Santa Rosa. 

I met Jim through the water rates coalition I worked with, trying to keep a check on Cal Water’s and other private for-profit water companies’ rapacious rate increases. He represented a group from Sonoma County, and drove hundreds of miles to meet with others, as well as to rate hearings all over the state. He worked very tirelessly trying to rally us all together, he was very motivating. He will be missed – he was just a darned nice man.

Jim was such a force in the water rates group I was afraid nobody would rise up to take his place. Then yesterday I got this announcement from the group in Lancaster – The Coalition for CPUC Water Rates Reform

A Showdown Hearing in Sacramento! These citizens are driving all the way up from SoCal to meet the CPUC and take on “four corporate monopoly providers”. 

SACRAMENTO, CA – Caught in the middle of a consumer rebellion against the state’s highest water prices and four corporate monopoly providers demanding more profits, the California Public Utilities Commission is faced with a showdown decision here Thursday, March 15.

The hearing is in response to an administrative law judge’s proposed decision to give San Jose Water, California Water Service, California-American and Golden State water companies lower cost of capitol increases than were sought in the consolidated case. The judge’s decision was supported by the CPUC’s Office of Ratepayer Advocate, which is tasked with protecting the public’s right to reasonably priced and affordable water. 

The decision to grant a lower amount didn’t satisfy either protesting consumers or the companies. But the California Water Association, the investor-owned water utilities’ trade association demanded that the five appointed commissioners take the unusual step of throwing out the judge’s findings and granting the full increase.

In a strongly-worded six-page letter to commissioners on March 9, water association official John K. Hawks claimed the CPUC is unfairly favoring consumer interests over those of for-profit utilities, and stated, “CWA acknowledges that the Constitutionally Independent Commission is under political pressure from the legislature, the media, and certain activist groups (dominated by affluent and high-volume water users) to appear responsive to ratepayer interests.” He added, “The (proposed decision’s) stunning failure to apply the record in this proceeding suggests that external pressures played a large role in shaping this unjust outcome.”

Response to Hawks’ letter from leaders of the activist group was summed up by Lauren Karnstedt of Lancaster, who said: “Finally, we’re starting to get their attention after six months of trying to get people in authority to understand there are 6.2 million Californians who are being gouged on pricing with the full approval of the CPUC.”

The Coalition for CPUC Water Rates Reform was launched in Lancaster in early September 2017, and quickly aligned with its largest partner, Water Rate Advocates for Transparency, Equity and Sustainability (WRATES) in San Jose. Currently, the coalition claims supporters in nine California counties, all focused on not only their local issues, but on convincing their respective legislators to reform the CPUC’s methods in granting water rate increases to monopoly providers.

Thursday’s 3 to 4 p.m. public session of the Public Utilities Commissioners in the State Personnel Board Auditorium follows a series of private meetings between CPUC commissioners and their advisors and Class “A” water utility executives, attorneys and lobbyists.

Rita Benton of WRATES said the companies fighting the proposed decision on return rates for the Cost of Capital application requested an 80-minute oral argument meeting, but commissioners scheduled an all parties meeting. She said, “The commissioners have allowed the IOUs to turn this proceeding into a circus and disrespect the judge and the process by allowing these many ex parte meetings and letters after the presiding judge has rendered his decision.”

As to the California Water Association’s claim that the reform movement is led by “affluent, high-volume water users,” Benton said, “We, the ratepayers, do not have the benefit of high powered attorneys, lobbyists, special interest groups and/or executives to advocate for us. We rely on the CPUC and the ORA to advocate on behalf of the ratepayers and it is the statutory obligation of the CPUC to ensure the protection of the ratepayer and that rates are just and reasonable.”

Benton added, “There appears to be a double standard. It is OK if the water monopolies and their lobbyists influence the commission, but it’s not OK if the ratepayers speak out. The private water utilities are saying the administrative law judges should not be trusted to do their job.”

Karnstedt said, “This statewide coalition for reform started in a middle-income area of Lancaster, and includes partners in such communities as Chico, Bakersfield, Oroville, suburbs of Sacramento and Clear Lake. We met our 30-plus percent water conservation goals every month and continue to save water because we’re being charged more for using even less.”

She called the consumer uprising a classic David vs. Goliath rematch.

See  that, they named “Chico” as one of their partners!

So let’s give them some partnership – go to their website and Get Involved!

https://www.waterratescoalition.com/get-involved

They’re working hard, and like Rita Benton says, it’s all volunteer, they don’t have a big lawyer to do their bidding.  When I wanted to mount a protest here, the CPUC rep advised me to get a lawyer, because, he said, the process is very complicated, and any mistakes will get your protest thrown out. I tried to get both the county of Butte and the city of Chico to mount formal protests but they wouldn’t do it. So this group is willing to make a stand – I say, stand behind them. Get  ready to write letters, write letters, write letters.

 

 

 

Thomas Elias: The cow has already got out of the barn on public utility rate reform

6 Jul

I found this article by columnist Thomas Elias on the Marysville for Reasonable Water Rates Facebook page, but I never found it in the ER. He is going over the recent reforms made by the state legislature following the scandal involving California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey. Peevey was in the pocket of PG&E for years, as revealed by e-mails he’d sent them, advising them in various legal matters. He was supposed to protect us, but all the while plotted with PG&E and probably other for-profit utility companies to screw us. 

I agree with Elias – these reforms are no-brainers, but may be too late to help.

http://www.appeal-democrat.com/opinion/thomas-elias-puc-reform-bills-are-too-little-too-late/article_f4948cc8-1eda-11e5-9a11-bb46e46fafcd.html

It’s the same with the state Public Utilities Commission these days as with almost everything else: By the time state legislators notice something is a problem, things are so bad, so extreme that other people and agencies have already acted.

Just now, almost six months after state and federal investigators executed search warrants on the homes of former PUC President Michael Peevey and a since-fired Pacific Gas & Electric Co. executive for whom Peevey would apparently do just about anything, lawmakers are finally ready to act.

 Unfortunately, their action is redundant, coming long after the cows have left the barn.

Dollar bills, often rolls of 100-dollar bills, are equivalent to the cows in this metaphor. And the barn is the equivalent of the wallets and bank accounts of tens of millions of customers with gas, electric and water companies regulated by the utilities commission.

For many years before scandal broke, the PUC under Peevey and several predecessors maintained a steady pattern favoring the interests of regulated, privately-owned corporations over those of the consumers they serve.

This pattern extended from pricing to maintenance and safety concerns, from easy OKs of power plant siting to lack of concern over nuclear safeguards at the now-closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power station. It has cost consumers billions of dollars over decades, costs that climb each day.

This has been achieved via a sort of kabuki dance, where utilities routinely ask far more in rate increases than they know they’re entitled to. The PUC responds by cutting the requests, still giving utilities larger increases than reality justifies. Then both the commission and the companies brag about being “consumer-friendly.”

The dance went on unchecked for decades, legislators paying virtually no heed. The lawmakers also routinely rubber-stamped appointees to the commission named by current Gov. Jerry Brown and predecessors like George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Each commissioner then served a six-year term without even the possibility of being fired for one-sided rulings.

Now, long after this column exposed the corrupt pattern and with a federal grand jury working on this case, at long last comes a state legislator to “do something” about the PUC. That’s Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Rendon of Lakewood. One of his bills would set up an inspector general at the commission, empowered to investigate its activities.

Another would outlaw secret contacts among commissioners and utility executives by requiring publication of all communications between them during rate-setting proceedings. Such “ex parte” contacts have long been illegal, but no one paid attention. So phone calls and private dinners like those documented involving Peevey, current Commissioner Mike Florio and executives of PG&E and Southern California Edison continued with impunity until earlier this year, when scandal broke.

The Rendon bills are too little, too late. Far better to give the commission’s existing Office of Ratepayer Advocates some real power to fight and expose the ongoing misdeeds of the PUC. Rather than set up a new inspector general, why not make the existing advocacy office independent?

And with no ability for consumers to protest PUC decisions anywhere but in appeal courts, it’s now far too difficult to do anything about wrongheaded, one-sided commission rulings. Why not allow consumers to sue in trial courts, where they could present evidence rather than being confined to working with evidence developed during the PUC’s own proceedings, where administrative law judges have been exposed lately as subject to occasional bias?

Those are simpler, less expensive changes than what Rendon proposes, the only legislative fixes for the PUC now proposed.

Even more important to cleaning up this long-corrupt agency would be for legislators to put a spotlight on any appointee proposed by any governor. Also, if lawmakers would hold meaningful, thorough hearings on the PUC’s questionable actions. This is already within their power, but even with the scandal in progress, it still does not happen. Lawmakers show no appetite for contesting any proposed commissioner or any commission actions. That’s how consumers got stuck with Peevey, a former Edison president whose corrupt practices were easy to foresee.

So, yes, the Legislature can and should do something about the PUC, but the best thing it could be is wake up and perform the watchdog duties it has neglected for decades.

Did you know that PG&E is allowed to pick the CPUC judge that hears their rate case application?

8 Oct

According to an article by Ellen Knickmeyer of Associated Press (10/7/14), “A PG&E representative acknowledged communicating with top commission officials to pick the judge for a PG&E rate case.”  After revelations of  other “back-channel dealings between utility executives and officials of California’s Public Utilities Commission,”  a judge is being asked to bar all private contracts between utility companies and their regulators. 

Well, for Pete’s sake – it’s about freaking time! 

Knickmeyer reports “In the hearing before a state administrative law judge, rate-payer groups and others criticized both PG&E and the utilities board for secret communications,”  after a PG&E representative actually admitted “communicating” with top commission officials to pick the judge for a PG&E rate case.  

As the kids say today, “OMG!” Put another “!” on that. And a double “G” ! ! 

These people are dirty, sheesh, the stuff they pull. They enrich themselves at our expense, they collaborate to steal from us!  That’s racketeering. And, that’s nobody’s fault but our own.  How many of you have written those letters/e-mails I been asking you to write? Get on it! Be sure to reference this storyThese people need a torch to their bottoms – that’s OUR JOB! 

 At last the local media seems to have come alive – I read this story in the Chico Enterprise Record. I don’t know if it was intentionally picked off the wire, or just by accident, but at last our local media is telling us something important.

Here’s the whole story:

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/642501a737b148359847139e6a5e6086/regulator-sought-donation-california-utility

I’ll remind you all again, that rate increase hearing is tomorrow at Holiday Inn, two sessions at 2 and 6:30 pm. I might print a copy of this story and wave it at them. Should I ask if any of them were “shopped” by PG&E? Will any of you be there to back me up? 

 

Still time to fight the water rate increase – DRA recommends cutting proposed hike in half

11 Nov

I have not been following the Cal Water rate increase lately – frankly, from my stats, I get the sickening feeling that nobody else in Chico is paying attention either.  Neither of the papers are covering this, nor has the city council discussed it. Let’s face it – a rate hike is good for the city of Chico, because it will mean increased Utility Tax revenues, and both newspapers seems to be nothing but propaganda rags for the city of Chico these days, so don’t expect them to make any waves.

Just in case you’re still asleep, wrap those warm feet around this – Cal Water wants to raise your bill by almost 40 percent. That’s alot, especially if you’re still in the habit of watering anything besides your shower and toilet.

 And here’s the real sticker – they try to tell us it’s for infrastructure, but I have the legal notice received in my billing – over half the increase will go to employee pensions and benefits. Furthermore, what they apparently didn’t mention in those notices was, the stockholders were going to get a nice little slice too.  

This should feel familiar to you – remember the time that big kid came out from behind that tree on the way to school, punched you real hard in the guts and said, “Gimmee your lunch money!” Well, this is more of the same.

Disgusted ratepayers in Marysville formed a group – “Marysville for Reasonable Water Rates” – check out the latest news on their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marysville-For-Reasonable-Water-Rates/176321489194208

They made a formal complaint to the California Public Utilities Commission, which was more than I could get out of the lobsters around here. This resulted in a hearing with the Department of Ratepayer Assistance, which suggested their requested hike be cut in half.  Cal Water came back with a proposal to increase the discount for their Low Income Rate Assistance program, but those who don’t qualify for LIRA will pay more to make up for that increase.  

Something that keeps making me madder and madder is why they say they need the increase – because we’ve been using less water. We’re not only conserving already, but we’ve reacted to the increases they’ve already shoved up our asses. I’ve watched my bill at  this house increase from an $8 service charge to $14. I’ve watched the price of a ccf go from about 50 cents to a dollar. In Marysville and Oroville they’re paying over a dollar for tier one.  This has nothing to do with the “cost” of providing water. It has everything to do with enriching management and shareholders. While you let your lawn die, some guy in Arizona is receiving a check made up of your money. 

The issue still needs to go before a panel at the CPUC, sometime in “early 2014.” Below I’ve pasted a news release from Cal Water – don’t slip in the bullshit, and you can get the information you need. Cal Water is not telling us below how much of the increase is going into employee benefits and pension, but they do suggest “the establishment of a health care balancing account that will track changes in employee health care costs and provide for the sharing of these cost changes between customers and shareholders during the rate case cycle. The parties believe the health care balancing account provides protection to the company and its customers due to the uncertainties arising from continuing changes in medical costs and insurance nationally, while providing an incentive to actively manage these costs downward.”  They’re offering to show us what they spend, so we can bitch about it and “incentivize” them to cut costs? How? By chasing after the Cal Water trucks, barking like a dog? “Hey, you been gaining too much weight lately! And you need to quit smoking, I saw that cigarette!” 

No, we don’t want to pay for that stuff, stop it. And it’s not really for the meter readers or the trench diggers, it’s for the soft-handed management types, like Mike Pembroke.  We need to contact the CPUC, now.  Familiarize yourselves with this page on the CPUC website:

http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/puc/aboutus/Divisions/CSID/Public+Advisor/

There is a lot of information here and contact information. Be sure to identify yourself and where you live. Tell them how the rate hike will affect you, and that your answer is going to be, USE LESS WATER.

 

Settlement Agreement Reached in California Water Service Company’s General Rate Case

SAN JOSE, CA–(Marketwired – Oct 30, 2013) – California Water Service Company (Cal Water), the largest subsidiary of California Water Service Group (NYSE: CWT), announced today that it has entered into a settlement agreement with the California Public Utilities Commission’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA) and other parties to its 2012 General Rate Case. The Commission may or may not adopt the settlement agreement as proposed by the parties.

If the settlement agreement is approved as proposed, Cal Water would be authorized to invest $447 million in districts throughout California over the three-year period (2013 – 2015) in order to provide a safe and reliable water supply to its customers. Included in the $447 million in water system infrastructure improvements is $126 million that would be recovered through the Commission’s advice letter procedure upon completion of qualified projects. Under the terms of the settlement, the Company would be authorized to increase gross revenue by approximately $45 million in 2014, $10 million in 2015, $10 million in 2016, and up to $19 million upon completion and approval of the company’s advice letter projects.

Addressing affordability, the settlement agreement provides for an increase in the discount provided to qualified low-income customers as part of its Low Income Rate Assistance program throughout Cal Water’s service areas in California, and an increase in the Rate Support Fund assistance to customers who reside in high-cost service areas.

Another provision of the settlement is the establishment of a health care balancing account that will track changes in employee health care costs and provide for the sharing of these cost changes between customers and shareholders during the rate case cycle. The parties believe the health care balancing account provides protection to the company and its customers due to the uncertainties arising from continuing changes in medical costs and insurance nationally, while providing an incentive to actively manage these costs downward.

The Commission is expected to issue a final decision on the case in early 2014. Additional information about the settlement agreement may be found on the Commission’s web site at www.cpuc.ca.gov.

California Water Service Group is the parent company of California Water Service Company, Washington Water Service Company, New Mexico Water Service Company, Hawaii Water Service Company, Inc., CWS Utility Services, and HWS Utility Services. Together these companies provide regulated and non-regulated water service to nearly 2 million people in California, Washington, New Mexico, and Hawaii. California Water Service Group’s common stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “CWT.” Additional information is available on our website at www.calwatergroup.com.

This news release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning established by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“Act”). The forward-looking statements are intended to qualify under provisions of the federal securities laws for “safe harbor” treatment established by the Act. Forward-looking statements are based on currently available information, expectations, estimates, assumptions and projections, and management’s judgment about the Company, the water utility industry and general economic conditions. Such words as would, expects, intends, plans, believes, estimates, assumes, anticipates, projects, predicts, forecasts or variations of such words or similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance. They are subject to uncertainty and changes in circumstances. Actual results may vary materially from what is contained in a forward-looking statement. Factors that may cause a result different than expected or anticipated include, but are not limited to: governmental and regulatory commissions’ decisions; changes in regulatory commissions’ policies and procedures; the timeliness of regulatory commissions’ actions concerning rate relief; new legislation; electric power interruptions; increases in suppliers’ prices and the availability of supplies including water and power; fluctuations in interest rates; changes in environmental compliance and water quality requirements; acquisitions and our ability to successfully integrate acquired companies; the ability to successfully implement business plans; changes in customer water use patterns; the impact of weather on water sales and operating results; access to sufficient capital on satisfactory terms; civil disturbances or terrorist threats or acts, or apprehension about the possible future occurrences of acts of this type; the involvement of the United States in war or other hostilities; restrictive covenants in or changes to the credit ratings on our current or future debt that could increase our financing costs or affect our ability to borrow, make payments on debt or pay dividends; and, other risks and unforeseen events. When considering forward-looking statements, you should keep in mind the cautionary statements included in this paragraph, as well as the annual 10-K, Quarterly 10-Q, and other reports filed from time-to-time with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Company assumes no obligation to provide public updates of forward-looking statements.

1720 North First Street
San Jose, CA 95112-4598

Contact:
Tom Smegal
(408) 367-8200
(analysts)

Shannon Dean
(310) 257-1435
(media)