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Commissioner Blog: CPUC Tells FERC Climate Change Must be Considered in Infrastructure Projects

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By Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen

Climate change is an enormous problem that the California Public Utilities Commission and other California policy makers take very seriously.

Our ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and a host of innovative state policies and programs are all designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change and protect our environment and planet even as the state's economy continues to grow at a healthy pace.

So, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) earlier this year announced that it would restrict its review and public disclosure of climate change and greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts in considering whether it is in the public interest to approve proposed new pipelines, my fellow Commissioners and I were concerned.

In 2016, FERC began examining the climate change impacts of GHG emissions from construction and operation of proposed new pipelines that came to FERC for review and certification. FERC's review was part of a broader effort by the Obama administration under the National Environmental Policy Act, (NEPA) to study and disclose GHG impacts from a variety of federal government activities.

But after President Trump issued an executive order last August on environmental review of infrastructure projects, FERC signaled its intention to no longer review the GHG and climate change impacts of new pipelines and sought comments from interested parties.

CPUC lawyers filed our comments with FERC on July 25, 2018.  In our filing, we maintain that FERC "can and must consider environmental factors including the impact of GHG emissions as part of the balancing of public benefits against residual adverse impacts . . ."

And we went on to say, "In assessing whether a project is in the public interest, FERC can consider the most accurate estimates of emissions, best practices, relevant climate goals for the region, and specific climate impacts associated with a project."

These seem like obvious points if you recognize the damage climate change is already causing and the need to take action to limit future impacts. We see the impacts every day in California with prolonged drought, a wildfire season that now seems to last all year, rising sea levels, and other extreme events that come from our  use of fossil fuels.

The solution to these impacts is not to bury our heads in the sand and ignore them. We need to evaluate and understand them, so we can do our best to mitigate the impacts and try to make our future safe, healthy, and sustainable. 

CPUC Acts to Protect Consumers Through Formal Investigations Against PG&E and One Million New Internet Users Coalition

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In our ongoing commitment to enforcement and consumer protection, we have opened two formal investigations into 1) Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) compliance with disconnections rules; 2) One Million New Internet Users Coalition's California Advanced Services Fund grant.

Following a staff investigation, our Commissioners voted on July 12, 2018, to open a formal investigation (I.18-07-008) into PG&E's failure to provide the required 24-hour notice prior to residential service disconnections between July 1 and July 18, 2016, thereby improperly disconnecting the service to approximately 6,255 of its customers.  The formal investigation will assess PG&E's internal control and disconnection processes at the time of the improper disconnections, and examine the adequacy of the remedies PG&E has employed since to ensure that they are reasonably sufficient in preventing future improper disconnections. The CPUC will determine: 1) whether PG&E violated rules or case law; 2) whether the CPUC should impose fines and/or order other remedies for any violations of applicable laws; and 3) whether PG&E's disconnection processes, both at the time of the error and following PG&E's remedies in response to the error, comply with CPUC regulations.

A second formal investigation (I.18-07-009), which also follows the findings of a staff investigation, was opened against California's One Million New Internet Users Coalition, including its members, Asian Pacific Community Fund, Black Business Association, Community Union, Inc., Korean Churches for Community Development, and Soledad Enrichment Action - Charter Schools. The formal investigation will determine whether the Coalition violated rules or regulations pertaining to the grant of funds from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF). The Coalition is also ordered to show cause as to why the CPUC should not order the Coalition to return approximately $244,385 of misappropriated CASF funds, impose penalties for violations of the grant's terms, and other remedies, including a prohibition against some or all of the members and officers of the Coalition from benefitting from or participating in any CPUC program for a period of at least 10 years. 

CPUC Denies Rehearing Requests Related to SDG&E Cost Recovery for 2007 Wildfires

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The CPUC has denied the Applications for Rehearing filed by San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and Southern California Edison (SCE) of the CPUC's November 2017 decision denying  SDG&E's application to recover costs related to the 2007 Southern California Wildfires.

On September 25, 2015, SDG&E filed an application seeking CPUC approval to recover $379 million, which represents a portion of the $2.4 billion in costs and legal fees incurred by SDG&E to resolve third-party damage claims arising from the Witch, Guejito, and Rice Wildfires. The CPUC determined on Nov. 30, 2017, that SDG&E did not reasonably and prudently operate its facilities linked to the wildfires.  As a result, SDG&E was prohibited from passing those costs on to its customers in rates.

In assessing the utilities' Applications for Rehearing, the CPUC reviewed each and every issue raised by SDG&E, PG&E, and SCE and determined that no legal error was made in the CPUC's 2017 decision. Therefore rehearing was denied and the 2017 decision was upheld.

CPUC Approves Grants to Construct Broadband Infrastructure Projects in San Bernardino and Imperial Counties

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In our ongoing efforts to assure access to reliable broadband services, yesterday we approved grant funding for broadband infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved communities of San Bernardino County and Imperial County.

At our Voting Meeting on July 12, the Commissioners authorized grants from the California Advanced Services Fund(CASF) to Frontier California, Inc. for two broadband infrastructure projects to construct and deploy fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) facilities to deliver broadband services.

We allocated $1,458,886 from the CASF to Frontier to construct the Lytle Creek Project, which includes the deployment of middle-mile fiber and last-mile FTTH facilities in Lytle Creek in San Bernardino County. The project will replace its current dial-up and mobile data service by enabling Internet speeds of up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload to an estimated 339 CASF eligible households. The project will also provide access to broadband Internet service for the U.S. Forest Service Lytle Creek Ranger Station, the Lytle Creek Community Center, the Lytle Creek Post Office, and several small businesses. The grant amount represents 80 percent of the total estimated project cost of $1,823,607.

Additionally, the CPUC authorized another CASF grant of $1,262,567 to Frontier to construct the Desert Shores Project. The proposed project will deploy FTTH facilities to provide broadband Internet service to the unincorporated communities of Desert Shores and Salton Sea Beach in Imperial County. The Desert Shores Project fiber optic network will enable access to gigabit-capable Internet service to 596 eligible households, at a cost of $2,118 per household, spread over 2.63 square miles. The project area includes a disadvantaged rural community in need of critical broadband infrastructure, and will provide improved access to employment, education, health care, public safety, and other governmental services. The grant amount represents 90 percent of the total estimated project cost of $1,478,902.

CASF promotes deployment of high-quality advanced communication services to Californians. Most program funds are for infrastructure deployment.  Some funds are for broadband adoption, awareness, training, and access.

CPUC Works to Protect Consumers Through New Disconnections and Affordability Actions

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Today we opened two new proceedings to examine important consumer protection issues: utility disconnections and the affordability of utility services.

Electricity and gas shut-offs can have serious impacts on people's lives, and have been increasing over time. We voted today to start considering ways to reduce service disconnections in California, through new rules and innovative approaches.

Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves said, "Disconnections impacted 2.5 million Californians last year and criminalize people's inability to pay high bills. This proceeding will develop innovative solutions to reduce disconnections and the devastating impacts they have on households across the state."

In Phase 1 of the proceeding, we will adopt policies, rules, or regulations with a goal of reducing the statewide level of residential gas and electric service disconnections for nonpayment in order to provide rapid relief to residential customers experiencing disconnections and reconnections. In Phase 2, we will take a more holistic and comprehensive approach to the evaluation of residential natural gas and electric disconnections with the goal of determining if the disconnection rate can be more effectively reduced through broader reforms and new approaches beyond those adopted in Phase 1.

We also took action today to develop a common understanding and tools to assess the impacts on affordability of our individual proceedings and utility rate requests.

Our proceeding will develop a framework and principles to identify and define affordability criteria for all utility services under our jurisdiction; and will develop the methodologies, data sources, and processes necessary to comprehensively assess the impacts on affordability of individual CPUC proceedings and utility rate requests.

Said Commissioner Carla J. Peterman, "The scope of this proceeding is purposefully customer-centric, including respondents from the telecommunications, water, electric, and gas sectors in recognition that the average customer often pays for multiple services using one household budget."

Contact our Public Advisor's Office at public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov for information on how to get involved in both these important proceedings!

Webinar: Community Solar in Disadvantaged Communities

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Webinar: Community Solar in Disadvantaged Communities 

Join us for our free webinar on two exciting new programs - the Disadvantaged Community Green Tariff program and the Community Solar Green Tariff program: 

When: Friday, July 13, 2018, 1 p.m.

Register

On June 21, 2018, we unanimously approved a decision (D. 18-06-027 ) to establish three new programs to bring clean, affordable solar resources to residents in disadvantaged communities in the territories of regulated electric utilities.  The decision, stemming from Assembly Bill 327 (Perea), will provide opportunities for low income customers who either own or rent in these communities to receive electric service generated from solar facilities.  This will allow these Californians to participate in the green economy and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The two exciting new programs that will be discussed in the public webinar are the Disadvantaged Community Green Tariff program and the Community Solar Green Tariff program.  

The Community Solar Green Tariff program allows residents in top 25 percent disadvantaged communities to have a sense of ownership of a local solar project to be located in or near their community.  Residents would receive a 20 percent discount off of their electric bill, and would work with a local non-profit or local government "sponsor" who would team up with a developer to locate a project site and help consumers sign up for the project.

The DAC Green Tariff program will also provide a 20 percent discount on electricity bills for low income customers who live in disadvantaged communities, and projects must be located in disadvantaged communities, but not necessarily in the same disadvantaged community.

Both programs require the utilities to sign Power Purchase Agreements for projects in disadvantaged communities.  The solicitation for both programs will occur jointly.  These options overcome barriers to solar for customers who rent their home, cannot afford solar, or whose home is unsuitable for solar.  Both programs will be funded by utility greenhouse gas allowance revenues or public purpose program funds.

We are hosting this webinar to share more details about this decision and program.  We hope you can join us!

 

Webinar Information: 

Community Solar in Disadvantaged Communities

Friday, July 13, 2018

1:00 pm   |  Pacific Daylight Time (San Francisco, GMT-07:00)  |  1 hr 30 mins

Register

After your request has been approved, you'll receive instructions for joining the meeting. If you already registered for this meeting, you do not need to register again.

Need help? Go to http://collaborationhelp.cisco.com.

 

Decision (D. 18-06-027 ):  http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/SearchRes.aspx?docformat=ALL&DocID=216789285 

If you have any questions, please contact David Gamson, Acting Chief of Staff for Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, at David.Gamson@cpuc.ca.gov.

Helping Disadvantaged Communities Go Green

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By Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves

 

The CPUC's June 21, 2018, 5-0 vote targeting solar investments in low income and disadvantaged communities is another important step in our ongoing commitment to the idea that the state's transition to a clean economy can only be considered successful if it includes all Californians.

Rooftop solar has grown rapidly throughout California in recent years, but up until now low income and disadvantaged communities have been an afterthought.

In the 70,000 square-mile service area where Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) operates, for instance-an area that stretches from Bakersfield to Eureka and from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the coast-just 17 percent of all rooftop solar is in so-called disadvantaged communities, or DACs.  Only .4 percent belongs to low income residents. (DACs in California are determined by a screening process used by the California Environmental Protection Agency that is based on geographic, socioeconomic, public health, and environmental hazard criteria.)

Our recent vote establishes three new targeted programs that will begin to improve those numbers, with each option providing a different approach in addressing the various hurdles facing expanded use of solar in the many communities around California that need some economic assistance.

•  The DAC - Single-family Solar Homes (DAC-SASH) program: This program allocates $10 million annually, providing up-front financial incentives for solar installation on homes owned by low income residents. The program will allow for greater eligibility and help residents who lack access to capital or credit.  Funded by utility greenhouse gas allowance revenues or public purpose program funds, $10 million in incentives will be provided annually through 2030.

•  The DAC - Green Tariff program: Subscribing customers will receive 100 percent renewable energy generated in DACs anywhere in the state and purchased by PG&E, Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E). The DAC-Green Tariff program will provide a 20 percent discount on electricity bills for low income customers who live in DACs. This option will help people who rent their home, cannot afford solar, or whose home is unsuitable for solar. The DAC-Green Tariff program will also be funded by utility greenhouse gas allowance revenues or public purpose program funds. Seventy megawatts (MW) for PG&E and SCE and 18 MW for SDG&E.

•  Community Solar Green Tariff: Like the DAC-Green Tariff, this program includes many community driven elements, such as job creation and solar in the community. Available through PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E, projects under this program will be sited within a top 25 percent DAC, and subscribers must also be in a top 25 percent DAC within 5 miles of the project. Participants will receive a 20 percent discount on their bills, with the program requiring demonstration of community involvement and interest, including site preferences. This approach is intended to ensure customers in DACs have access to local solar power, with an economic benefit and robust community involvement. This option will also be funded by utility greenhouse gas allowance revenues or public purpose program funds. Eighteen MW for PG&E and SCE and 5 MW for SDG&E.

Taken together, these programs will bring solar energy to more than 40,000 California consumers, and they come at a time when the CPUC is analyzing new ways of providing multi-beneficial distributed solar throughout our state. The great benefit as we move forward is that whatever new methods we adopt, we will now make sure from the beginning that they are delivered equitably. 

 

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