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Making EPIC Decisions to Benefit Energy Research and Development

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By Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves

When the CPUC established the EPIC program in late 2011, its goal was to support investments in clean energy technologies that are beneficial to electricity ratepayers served by the three large investor-owned utilities and to the state of California. The program has been beneficial, and with some recent improvements adopted by the CPUC at our last Voting Meeting, we've taken a number of significant steps that I believe will enhance its performance.

EPIC, which stands for the Electric Program Investment Charge, is the largest state-level energy research and development program in the nation.  It funds clean energy research and projects that support the state's climate and energy goals while also promoting greater reliability, lower costs, and increased safety.

Our largest partner in the program, the California Energy Commission (CEC), fills in critical funding gaps in energy innovation aimed at decarbonizing our buildings, transportation system, residential homes and businesses, and the electricity grid.  Given its ambitious mission, it is imperative that the program be well managed and thoughtfully coordinated so ratepayers and California realize the maximum benefit from their investment, especially as we continue to pursue the state's ambitious climate and renewable energy goals.  

At a time when the federal government is reducing its own investments in clean energy and other public interest programs to reduce greenhouse gases, it's more important than ever that EPIC be run in the most effective and efficient way possible.  

For all those reasons and more, the CPUC voted unanimously at its last Voting Meeting to adopt the second decision emerging from an ongoing proceeding that comprehensively addresses some broad and forward-looking EPIC improvements. These improvements will increase the value and importance of this energy innovation program both to ratepayers and to energy policymakers.

The first action we took in the proceeding came in January, when we approved the bulk of EPIC's funding - the 80 percent administered by the CEC - and established a framework for better coordination that the new decision implements.

Our latest decision addresses each of the more than 30 recommendations for EPIC program improvements that resulted from an independent evaluation of the program completed last year.  

That evaluation found that, although EPIC is still young - most projects didn't begin until 2014 and 2015 - it is on track and showing strong signs of energy advancements and ratepayer benefits. 

We've now approved the full details and budget for a new process to better coordinate CPUC goals with EPIC investments. Along with the CPUC's Energy Division, we have high hopes for what we're now calling the Policy + Innovation Coordination Group that will focus on identifying key CPUC areas of interest that need to be informed by EPIC research. The group will also establish a communication and coordination process designed to ensure that everyone associated with the program is kept in the information loop and working on common goals. Without a formal, targeted process, that level of coordination does not always occur.  Now, I believe that it will. 

We also want to make sure everyone enjoys the benefits of the program, so this latest action we took included considerations for how to target the program to disadvantaged communities, or DACs. The CEC has already committed to targeting at least 25 percent of its technology demonstration funds to DACs, and a minimum of 10 percent to communities that are 
low income. And while we did not adopt specific minimum requirements for the utilities' programs, we are making a few targeted improvements. 

Forthcoming filings from the utilities to employ EPIC funds may include new projects, and the CPUC will provide guidance for how these should funds can be utilized in disadvantaged communities. Also, program administrators will conduct workshops to help DACs inform and engage with the program, as well as train them to apply for funding. Finally, we lay out a number of ways to target DACs we'll consider for the future. 

Last, the decision adopted last week envisions that we will open a rulemaking to consider extending the funding for EPIC - right now, it's only authorized through 2020 - as well as other changes and improvements to program rules and details. 

As someone who was involved in starting EPIC when I worked in Governor Brown's office before coming to the CPUC, I take pride in its mission and look forward to continuing to help it achieve good results for our state.

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