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CPUC Issues $8 Million Citation to Edison for Safety Violations

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has issued a Citation to Southern California Edison for $8 million for violations of safety regulations following an electric incident that occurred in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2015.

The incident occurred when a person was injured when he struck a low-hanging energized powerline while riding an off-road vehicle, and two people were injured when they contacted the energized powerline while trying to provide aid to the injured individual.

A CPUC staff investigation determined that a crossarm on an Edison pole broke, causing a piece of the crossarm to fall to the ground. The 12 kV overhead line that the crossarm was supporting became suspended less than eight feet above the ground.

Crossarms should be designed, installed, and maintained properly to prevent failure during conditions that are normal to the area where they are installed. Therefore, Edison is in violation of CPUC rules for failing to ensure that the crossarm was capable of withstanding conditions normal to the area.

Information about the Citation is available on the CPUC's Electric Safety Citations webpage.

Edison has 30 calendar days to pay the Citation or file an appeal.

The CPUC requires the immediate correction of any unsafe condition. The CPUC's Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) has staff-level authority to issue Citations to regulated electric companies for violation of CPUC codes and regulations.

Safety violations are identified through SED's ongoing audits, inspections, and investigations; by the utilities themselves through mandatory disclosure requirements; or through the CPUC's whistleblower program for anonymous and protected reporting of violations. Whistleblowers can call 1-800-649-7570 or email safetyhotline@cpuc.ca.gov.

The CPUC also has an online whistleblower reporting form where complaints can be submitted anonymously.

CPUC Issues $5 Million in Citations to PG&E for Natural Gas Violations

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The CPUC has issued two Citations totaling $5.05 million to Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for violations of regulations resulting from two separate incidents in 2016 and 2017.

The CPUC issued a $4,050,000 Citation to PG&E for violations of federal rules stemming from a 2016 Deer Park, Calif. incident in which PG&E employees caused natural gas to leak from a valve during an attempted repair of a service valve. Subsequent ignition of the gas resulted in two injuries.

The CPUC also issued PG&E a separate $1 million citation for a 2017 Yuba City incident in which a pipe was not constructed properly during installation. A subsequent leak and explosion caused injuries to PG&E personnel.

The Citations are available on the CPUC's natural gas Citations webpage.

PG&E has 30 calendar days to pay the Citations or file appeals.

The CPUC requires the immediate correction of any unsafe condition. The CPUC's Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) has staff-level authority to issue Citations to natural gas companies for violation of CPUC or federal gas safety codes and regulations.

Safety violations are identified through SED's ongoing audits, inspections, and investigations; by the utilities themselves through mandatory disclosure requirements; or through the CPUC's whistleblower program for anonymous and protected reporting of violations.

Whistleblowers can call 1-800-649-7570 or email safetyhotline@cpuc.ca.gov. The CPUC also has an online whistleblower reporting form where complaints can be submitted anonymously.

Commissioner Blog: CPUC Acts to Cut Methane Pollution

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By Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen

In September, just as Gov. Brown's Global Climate Action Summit was getting underway in San Francisco, a front-page article in the New York Times demonstrated the importance of California's leadership in the fight against climate change.

"Trump Administration Formally Rolls Back Rule Aimed at Limiting Methane Pollution," the headline said.  Details of this predictable but misguided step on the part of the federal government stand in stark contrast to California's approach and to action the CPUC took at its most recent Voting Meeting on Oct. 11, 2018.

With a unanimous vote from our Consent Calendar, the CPUC approved new compliance plans that we required from regulated utilities to reduce methane emissions.  The move advances two CPUC policy goals: enhancing natural gas pipeline safety and integrity, and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Our Methane Leak Abatement program was established last year pursuant to Senate Bill 1371 (Leno, 2014) and sets a goal of reducing methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure by 40 percent from present day levels by 2030. It is also an important part of the state's Short-Lived Climate Pollutant reduction strategy, which seeks to reduce emissions of powerful climate-affecting pollutants that stay in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than longer-lived pollutants such as carbon dioxide. Additional strategies being pursued by the California Air Resources Board focus on methane reductions from agriculture and other sources in the state. 

In a decision from the CPUC last year, we established 26 best practices that represent the nation's first comprehensive program to reduce methane emissions from utilities' natural gas delivery infrastructure.  The CPUC's most recent action is where the rubber meets the road - approved budgets for the utilities to implement the best practices.

In California we now have a new normal, where new leaks are promptly repaired; actions are taken to address the substantial methane emissions that occur during routine equipment maintenance; and known leaks that were previously not repaired because they did not present a safety concern will now be addressed, with a concerted effort to identify and stop "super emitter" leaks. 

In addressing the issue, we have considered costs of the measures and we trimmed Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) budget for repairing very small existing leaks, which would achieve very little methane reduction at a high cost per ton. Our decision implementing the program does not require actions that are "cost-prohibitive," and staff properly weighed rate and cost impacts with the commensurate benefits. Since plans are revised every two years, we will re-evaluate these actions in future plans.

The forecasted budgets we approved for the utilities to adopt the previously identified best practices were as follows: Southern California Gas Company, $234 million; PG&E, $66 million; San Diego Gas & Electric, $12.3 million; and Southwest Gas Corporation, $2.4 million; for a total of $315 million.

All the proposed pilot and research and development programs will be subject to regular progress review by staff in our Safety and Enforcement Division, with utility representatives, at least every six months. We can also direct the utilities to discontinue any pilot or research and development project that is determined to no longer be in ratepayer interest.

This is another example of how California is taking responsible and thoughtful action on serious climate and environmental issues, even when the federal government is not.

Commissioner Blog: Increasing Engagement with the Low Income Oversight Board

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By Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen

For more than 15 years the Low Income Oversight Board (LIOB), established by the Legislature to make sure the CPUC is engaging with low income electric, gas, and water customers in our state, has been advising the CPUC on how to assist these ratepayers with paying their bills and maintaining vital utility service.

The Board, which meets four times a year in various locations around the state, consists of 11 members, including utility representatives, public and private weatherization contractors, and a CPUC Commissioner, a spot I now fill.

Recently, we realized that the Board could do more to connect more fully with low income Californians, especially in our meetings outside Sacramento or the Bay Area.  So, this summer, the LIOB launched an extensive community engagement effort to get more local, community based organizations, and non-profits to attend our meetings and engage with us.

Working with staff at the CPUC and utility representatives, we sent surveys on community engagement to dozens of organizations. We heard back from about 90 groups and we were briefed on the survey results at our September 2018 board meeting in Rialto.

Many of the recommendations dealt with logistical issues, such as developing a more extensive email contact list for interested parties to follow the work of the LIOB without fully subscribing to CPUC proceedings.  Other suggestions included putting topics of local interest on the LIOB agenda, having presentations to the Board on local issues, adding more time and agenda items that include public discussion, providing more accessible regulatory updates, and holding meetings outside of normal business hours to accommodate working families.

In the months ahead, the LIOB will work to incorporate these and other related ideas into our regular meetings. As the Commissioner serving on the LIOB, I see this community outreach effort as consistent with broader efforts underway at the CPUC to make sure our proceedings are more accessible to all members of the public. These ongoing efforts include a pilot program to increase community engagement with CPUC Public Participation Hearings on specific proceedings, and additional targeted outreach tools being used by our News and Outreach Office staff.

We are currently looking for a new public member of the LIOB who has expertise in the low income community. The selected candidate would serve a two-year term beginning in mid- to late-October. Candidates should submit a biography or résumé (no longer than one page), a statement of interest, and a list of three references no later than October 12, 2018, to my Chief of Staff, Sean Simon at sean.simon@cpuc.ca.gov.


CPUC Adopts Consumer Protection Requirements for Solar Customers

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In our ongoing efforts to protect consumers in the industries we regulate, we have adopted several consumer protections targeted to solar customers, including a solar information packet for utility customers considering installing solar rooftop energy systems.

At our Voting Meeting on Thursday, September 27, 2018, the Commissioners approved a plan to develop a consumer information packet geared towards residential consumers of rooftop solar. The packet is intended to help consumers make an informed decision about installing solar, in response to aggressive or unscrupulous sales tactics. While solar remains an important part of our energy future, some customers have faced troubling issues like misleading marketing practices; pressure to sign a contract or agreement on the same day by solar salespersons; incomplete or incorrect information about the costs and benefits of rooftop solar; predatory financing; and more. 

"Solar should bring real benefits and energy savings to everyone, and the choice to go solar in California should be an informed one," said Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves. "Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I'm proud that these new solar consumer protections have been adopted. There is much more to do beyond this important first step, and the CPUC will continue to work on ways to protect the public."

The CPUC's Energy Division and News and Outreach Office will work on finalizing the packets with stakeholders through workshops and other procedures. The solar information packet is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2019. 

We also took action to help ensure that solar contract terms are reasonable for consumers. Under the new rules, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), are required to obtain verification that solar customers have received and read the solar information packet and the Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) Solar Energy Systems Disclosures through an interconnection portal, prior to installing the solar systems. Additionally, the utilities must collect the installation contracts from solar contractors and forward the contracts to Energy Division for review upon request. Only solar providers with a valid CSLB license will be authorized to install solar energy systems and interconnect customers to the utility's distribution system. 

The decision strengthens consumer protection measures and addresses important consumer issues faced by solar customers. 

The proposal voted on is available on our website

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