Re: California Public Utilities Commission Appointments

Dear Governor Newsom,

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we urge you to appoint Public Utilities Commissioners who fully embrace 21st-century equitable, decentralized, clean energy system concepts. The 20th-century centralized model which persists is a barrier to achieving the state’s urgent climate, clean energy, equity, safety, and resilience goals. The challenges we face today and in the coming decades require a state policy commitment to local clean energy resources designed by and for communities.

To qualify for consideration, a candidate for Public Utilities Commissioner should have a demonstrated commitment to and understanding of the following five fundamentals of a contemporary energy framework for an equitable, climate-safe future in our state:

  • Health, Safety, and Resiliency

The rotating outages that occurred in August amid a record heatwave provided an alarming reminder of how vulnerable California’s electricity system is. Combined with the even more impactful planned and unplanned disruptive events which are expected to continue for years, the outages also serve as a call to action. We must build a resilient network of local energy systems from the bottom-up, based on clean, decentralized energy technologies that can be a part of smarter distribution systems that can be quickly reconfigured and organized into microgrids. Equity will be an important part of this transformation including the development of community microgrids that serve critical facilities. To address California’s urgent resilience and equity needs, we must reimagine our electric grid with a layer of distributed, community-guided energy infrastructure that protects critical facilities and ensures continuous public services  during disruptions and emergencies.

The emergency declaration you issued this summer allowing the use of backup generation units to relieve pressure on the state’s power grid enabled the increased operation of thousands of units powered by diesel fuel. Absent a better cleaner option, businesses, homeowners, and managers of critical healthcare, water and emergency facilities have been using more polluting diesel units, which will exacerbate climate disruption that is the root cause of the emergencies requiring their use. Cleaner, safer alternatives exist today.

The Commissioners you appoint should be individuals who understand that the Public Utilities Commission must fundamentally structure regulations so tens of thousands of distributed renewable energy resource-based systems can be integrated onto the grid and participate in and be compensated for providing cost-effective safe, clean local energy and grid services which will also create new local jobs and other economic benefits.

  • Labor, Economic Recovery, and a Just Transition

The transition to clean, climate-safe energy will produce hundreds of thousands of new or “greened” existing jobs,  and foster a robust state economy for decades to come. But it must be a just transition where workers, families and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel and related industries are provided good “high road” jobs and benefits, or early retirement. The technology needed to build a more reliable and decentralized energy system is available today, and building it will provide high-quality jobs and economic benefits in all California communities.

The Commissioners you appoint should be committed to accelerating a just transition and ensuring comparable jobs with transferable skills in the clean energy sector. 

  • Justice, Equity, and Urgency

To maintain gender, ethnic, and racial diversity at the Commission, we urge you to seriously consider such diversity when evaluating appointees.

The Commissioners you appoint should possess a solid track record of supporting equity and social justice, and must prioritize clean energy resilience for all of California’s lower-income communities and communities of color, which suffer disproportionately from air pollution and for whom power outages are particularly detrimental.

  • Community Microgrids

The CPUC must prioritize microgrid commercialization. The Commission should consider modifying fee structures, tariffs, rules and standards to enable local entities to  create their own clean, reliable, resilient energy solutions that are driven by communities i.

California needs regulatory leadership that prioritizes the development of local energy resources in disadvantaged communities serving low-income customers.  Without definitive state leadership, the accelerating clean energy revolution will not address the state’s wealth inequality. Clean energy needs to be part of the solution.

The Commissioners you appoint should be committed to the commercialization and deployment of equitable clean energy solutions.

  • Local Energy Planning

California’s current regulatory framework enables excessive influence by the state’s large utilities and does not fully incentivize the development of cost-effective clean distributed energy resources to deliver carbon-free electricity to customers. Local government energy, transportation, and land use planning is needed now to cost-effectively identify the locations for local energy resources on the local distribution system to provide resiliency benefits in the face of ever-increasing wildfires and other disruptions.

To protect its residents and ensure future prosperity, California must empower local governments to conduct energy resilience planning that aligns local needs and priorities with state policy goals while also supporting a reliable statewide power grid. This objective requires a new state program that supports local and tribal governments, businesses, and other stakeholders in developing community energy resilience plans, rather than relying primarily on incumbent utilities to address decarbonization, resilience, and equity needs through their investment plans. Many population centers in California are now served by Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs) which favor innovative local clean energy resource development.

The Commissioners you appoint should demonstrably support local energy development of community and customer-owned distributed energy resources and microgrids. 

Science shows that climate extremes are not only increasing, but accelerating. There is no time to waste. Decentralized and flexible energy infrastructure can meet the challenge with near-zero-carbon community microgrids, the logical next step in California’s remarkable history of energy innovation.

Governor Newsom, please use your authority to appoint Commissioners who are committed to taking immediate steps to shape the policies needed to develop a new energy system for all Californians that is clean, affordable, resilient, equitable, and safe.