Climate Change Impacts Utility Services

Climate change is impacting California, and many of the industries the CPUC regulates are affected. Robust climate adaptation planning in a time of worsening climate impacts is a prudent next step to ensure the safety and reliability of all investor-owned public utilities. While the CPUC has focused on climate change mitigation programs over the past few years, the CPUC is now working on addressing the real impacts climate change will or is having.  For example, California is experiencing impacts from climate change, such as:

  • Rising sea levels that can potentially inundate power plants and substations.
  • Increased temperatures that cause additional strain on transformers.
  • Increased line losses between electric generators and load.
  • Increased overall electric demand for air conditioning during heat waves.

How the CPUC is Responding

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued an Order Instituting Rulemaking (R.18-04-019) on May 7, 2018 to integrate climate change adaptation matters in relevant CPUC proceedings. Safeguarding California’s utility access against climate threats is a major undertaking, and the CPUC anticipates multiple phases to deal with aspects of the water, telecommunication, electric and natural gas utilities. Phase 1 only addresses the electric and natural gas utilities.

Proceeding Results

The CPUC has issued two decisions in R.18-04-019 related to electric and gas utilities. The proceeding remains open to consider future filings by the energy utilities and climate adaptation in other industries regulated by the CPUC.

Decision 19-10-054 on Definitions and Data:

  • Defines climate change adaptation for energy utilities in California. Climate Change Adaptation, as defined by the CPUC in this proceeding, means:
    “Climate change adaptation is adjustment in natural and human systems to a new or changing environment. Adaptation to climate change for energy utilities regulated by the Commission refers to adjustment in utility systems using strategic and data-driven consideration of actual or expected climatic impacts and stimuli or their effects on utility planning, facilities maintenance and construction, and communications, to maintain safe, reliable, affordable and resilient operations.”
  • Identifies Data Sources. The California Fourth Climate Assessment and any subsequent assessments are the primary source of climate forecasts, pathways, and scientific studies. Decision 19-10-054 establishes the criteria for any further data or models that energy utilities may develop to understand climate impacts. Decision 19-10-054 also identifies the most recent California Statewide Climate Change Assessment as a source for climate scenarios and projections when analyzing climate impacts, climate risk, and climate vulnerability of utility systems, operations, and customers.
  • Specifies planning standards. The energy utilities are to use business-as-usual Representative Concentration Pathways 8.5 for planning, investment and operational purposes.

Decision 20-08-046 on Disadvantaged Vulnerable Communities and Utility Vulnerability Assessments:

  • Defines Disadvantaged Vulnerable Communities in a climate adaptation context as:
    • 25% highest scoring census tracts according to the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (CalEnviroScreen);
    • All California tribal lands;
    • Census tracts with median household incomes less than 60% of state median income; and
    • Census tracts that score in the highest 5% of Pollution Burden within CalEnviroScreen but do not receive an overall CalEnviroScreen score due to unreliable public health and socioeconomic data.
  • Requires energy utilities to lead a process of community engagement with DVCs as they develop vulnerability assessments due to climate change impacts. Each IOU will file a Community Engagement Plan every four years, including a discussion of how the energy utilities promote equity related to their climate adaptation plans. The energy utilities will also assess the effectiveness of their outreach and engagement and file survey results to improve future outreach.
  • Requires energy utilities to file with the CPUC vulnerability assessments. These vulnerability assessments will:
    • Focus on climate risks to utility operations, services, and assets.
    • Provide options for dealing with vulnerabilities, ranging from easy fixes to complicated, long-term mitigation
    • Describe climate risk to assets under third-party contracts of 15 years or longer for power, capacity or reliability.
    • Cover the key timeframe of 20-30 years, while also looking at the immediate 10-20 year timeframe and a long-term timeframe of 30-50 years.
    • Be filed every four years on a staggered basis, on the same day as each utility’s Risk Assessment Mitigation Phase application and one year before its General Rate Case.
  • Requires energy utilities to designate ‘climate change teams’ across departments, reporting directly to an executive at a senior vice president level or above. All board members will also oversee climate adaptation planning.

Filing Deadlines

The energy utilities will be required to file Community Engagement Plans, vulnerability assessments, and feedback surveys on a staggered schedule, to align with other CPUC processes like their General Rate Cases.

Click on the linked date in the table below to take you to the completed filing.

Table 1. Schedule for first round of utility Climate Adaptation-related filings

Investor Owned Utility Community Engagement Plan Filing Vulnerability Assessment Filing General Rate Case Filing
SCE 2021 2022 2023
PG&E 2023 2024 2025
SoCalGas/SDG&E 2024 2025 2026

Procedural Workshops

Working groups met at least once on each topic in a series of workshops to discuss the five proceeding issues. A different utility summarized the discussion, and you can find the reports below:

Phase II

October 2, 2023 Workshop on Tasks 1 & 3: Modeling, Investment, and Procedural Linkages for Climate Adaptation


March 13, 2023 Workshop Launching R.18-04-019 Phase II

Phase I

  • Topic 1 Workshop Report - How to define climate change adaptation for the electric and natural gas utilities
  • Topic 2 Workshop Report - Ways to address climate change adaptation issues in CPUC proceedings and activities to ensure safety and reliability of utility operations
  • Topic 4 Workshop Report - Risks facing the electric and natural gas utilities with respect to climate change adaptation and the magnitudes of these risks
  • Topic 3 and 5 Workshop Report - Data, tools, and resources necessary for utility planning and operations related to climate adaptation; and Guidance to electric and gas utilities on how to incorporate adaptation into their planning and operations

Additional Information

Additional information and resources on climate adaptation approaches and research:

Getting Involved

Any person may be on the service list for a proceeding for information only, and that person will stay informed about developments in the proceeding by receiving e-mails with all documents sent by the CPUC, by parties participating in the proceeding, as well as by receiving notices of workshops or other events related to the proceeding.

To add yourself to the service list for the CPUC’s Climate Adaption Proceeding, email and include the proceeding number (R.18-04-019), your name, title, organization, address, phone number, and e-mail. You can also find out more information from CPUC’s service list website.

The full docket card for each proceeding can be accessed through the CPUC docket card search tool. Enter the proceeding number (R1804019) without any periods or dashes to search. Final decisions can also be located on the CPUC website using this decision search tool.

The CPUC’s Public Advisor's Office provides procedural information and advice to individuals and groups who want to formally participate in proceedings.

If you have any additional questions, you can contact David Matusiak at the CPUC Energy Division:

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