Welcome to the October edition of the California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) eNewsletter, where you’ll find information on the CPUC’s investigation of the San Bruno pipeline explosion, results of the independent evaluation of PG&E's Smart Meters, energy efficiency news, and more.


CPUC To Hold Annual Hearing To Promote Diversity In Utility Procurement Practices

The CPUC, in its ongoing efforts to promote diversity in utility company practices, is holding its annual public hearing to examine the diversity programs of the state’s regulated utilities on Oct. 12, 2010, from 8 a.m.–3 p.m. in the Milton Marks Auditorium at 455 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco.

CPUC Commissioners will hear from the Chief Executive Officers and Presidents of California’s largest utilities about their supplier diversity programs and activities to ensure inclusion of diverse suppliers in contract bidding.  Utility executives will be joined by other guests to review the progress, commitments, and initiatives made to increase the participation of women, minorities, and disabled veterans-owned business enterprises in procurement by regulated utilities and other entities.

Representatives of industry, government, academia, labor, community-based organizations, and other interested parties are expected to attend the hearing. Members of the public are invited to attend; a public comment session will be held.

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CPUC Investigates San Bruno Pipeline Explosion

The CPUC is investigating the cause of the explosion and fire that occurred in San Bruno on Sept. 9, 2010. The CPUC is entrusted with safety jurisdiction for gas pipeline systems in the state by legislative mandate. The CPUC is working side-by-side with the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead investigator, to determine the cause of the San Bruno explosion. 

In addition to its investigation, the CPUC will establish an Independent Review Panel of experts to gather facts and make recommendations as to whether there is a need for the general improvement of the safety of PG&E’s natural gas transmission lines and to make recommendations if any improvements are needed at the CPUC.

Said Commissioner Nancy E. Ryan, “Our condolences go out to everyone impacted by this tragedy.  Everyone at the CPUC pledges to undertake a robust and probing investigation as to why this happened and to do everything we can to prevent this from happening again.”

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Results In Of Independent Evaluation Of PG&E Smart Meters

The CPUC has received the results of the independent evaluation of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) Smart Meter deployment, focused on electric residential customers, which found that the meters and associated software and billing systems are consistent with industry standards and are performing accurately. However, the evaluation identified multiple factors that appeared to contribute to the escalation of Smart Meter-related high bill complaints, including PG&E's customer service practices.

On April 1, 2010, the CPUC contracted with The Structure Group to conduct an independent evaluation of PG&E’s Smart Meters in response to concern expressed by consumers over high energy bills that occurred around the same time PG&E installed Smart Meters in the San Joaquin Valley area.

Structure independently tested more than 750 Smart Meters and 147 electromechanical meters. In laboratory testing, field meter testing, and end-to-end system testing, Structure determined that all of the tested Smart Meters and systems were working accurately and that customer billing matched the expected results.

Structure also reviewed 1,378 electric Smart Meter complaints and performed in-depth customer interviews; they found issues with PG&E customer service management and adherence to industry best practices. For example, customer questions regarding Smart Meters and individual customer usage patterns were not effectively addressed by PG&E. In some cases, customers experienced multiple cancelled bills followed by re-billing, which exacerbated customer confusion and frustration. In addition, customers indicated to Structure that there was a lack of communication and notification from PG&E about their Smart Meter installation.

The report also said that the CPUC’s handling of certain consumer complaints created confusion for the customer when the CPUC deemed the complaint closed even though the customer was still not satisfied with or did not understand PG&E's resolution of their complaint.

"I am happy to hear that PG&E’s Smart Meters are functioning properly, but disturbed by PG&E’s lack of customer service and responsiveness. We will ensure that PG&E improves their customer service, and we will also continue to improve our own complaint handling processes," said CPUC President Michael R. Peevey. "I hope these findings help ease minds about the accuracy of Smart Meters. Utilities nationwide are installing Smart Meters in order to give consumers greater control over their energy use, including shifting their usage to save money with optional time-based rates, provide for faster outage detection and restoration of service, and to help upgrade and modernize the electric grid."

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CPUC Adopts Plan To Save 60-80 Percent Lighting Energy Use Statewide; Launches Zero Net Energy Action Plan

The CPUC has adopted a plan to transform the lighting market and achieve a 60-80 percent reduction in statewide electrical lighting energy consumption, and has also launched a Zero Net Energy Action Plan to help reduce building energy use to net-zero through greater efficiency and on-site clean energy production.

The CPUC’s lighting plan will be a new chapter of the California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan. Lighting accounts for approximately one-fourth of California’s electricity use and promoting the widespread use of energy efficient lighting can lead to significant savings. The lighting chapter of the Strategic Plan focuses on development and dissemination of best practices; expanded and enhanced research, development, and demonstration infrastructure; cultivation of end user demand; and integrated, supportive state policies to yield a 60-80 percent reduction in California’s statewide lighting electricity consumption (over a 2010 baseline).

The Strategic Plan, adopted by the CPUC in Sept. 2008, presents a single roadmap to achieve maximum energy savings across all major groups and sectors in California. The lighting chapter of the Strategic Plan was developed through a collaborative 18-month period and represents the work of more than 200 stakeholders from lighting, architecture, labor and electrical workers, laboratories, and various state agencies.

Separately, the CPUC joined California business leaders to launch the 2010-2012 Zero Net Energy Action Plan designed to help California commercial building owners take advantage of the latest technologies and financial incentives to help reduce building energy use to net-zero through greater efficiency and on-site clean energy production.

Zero net energy (ZNE) buildings have a net energy consumption of zero over a typical year. On-site solar, wind, and other renewable energy resources generate the amount of energy used by the building. To date, California has more ZNE buildings than any other state in the nation. Technologies needed to achieve ZNE - including high performance lighting and distributed generation such as rooftop solar - are widely available and incentivized.

The Zero Net Energy Action Plan was developed through a collaborative 11-month period and represents the work of more than 150 stakeholders in commercial building, architecture, finance, clean energy, technology, and various state agencies. The action plan lays out a path to implement the California Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan for the commercial sector, which identified ZNE as one of the Big Bold Energy Efficiency Strategies.

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Visit our Consumer Information Center for more assistance. Consumers with utility complaints can call our Consumer Affairs Branch at 1-800-649-7570.

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© 2010, California Public Utilities Commission. All rights reserved.
October 2010


Produced by the CPUC's News and Public Information Office and Business and Community Outreach, 415-703-1366, news@cpuc.ca.gov
505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102.

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