CPUC only says it's ‘monitoring' PG&E amid company's uncertain future

The California Public Utilities Commission would not comment on its role in the potential bankruptcy filing of Pacific Gas and Electric but a spokesperson did say Monday PG&E has the resources to continue to safely meet its core responsibilities and obligations.

The CPUC is the agency responsible for making sure every customer has electric and gas services and is in charge of regulating utilities like PG&E. Among uncertainty over PG&E’s future, the commission would only say it’s ‘monitoring’ PG&E including its leadership, financial status and legal findings and is prepared to ‘respond as appropriate.’ Two spokespeople directed KTVU to Governor Gavin Newsom’s statement.

The governor is responsible for appointing commissioners to the board. The CPUC was added to the state constitution in 1911, charged with regulating services, protecting customers and safeguarding the environment. Commissioners are supposed to make sure utilities like PG&E spend wisely to construct, maintain and replace infrastructure.

However, with more wildfires and more blame cast on PG&E, there are also questions over the CPUC’s role and responsibility. Some feel the commission isn’t holding the utility accountable.

“Make this a true public utility,” one customer yelled in a CPUC meeting. “Make them accountable to the people.”

CPUC President Michael Picker wrote a letter to the then Governor Jerry Brown as part of a lengthy 2017 Annual Report from the CPUC. He said continuing to improve the utilities safety records remain critical.

“We know in this era of unprecedented damage we’re seeing from wildfires, we can’t keep doing the same thing,” Picker said.

The commission fined PG&E $8.3M in 2017 after a tree came in touch with an electric conductor, igniting the fire in Butte County. Still, the CPUC is responsible for deploying hundreds to consistently inspect wires, poles and pipelines, according to the annual report. While it did sign an agreement with CalFire to jointly investigate any role utility equipment may have played in fires, it’s also necessary the CPUC work to prevent disasters before they start.

The CPUC has a $340M budget and is both an administrative agency and a court with roughly $193M spent to regulate utilities. In 2015, commissioners voted to investigate safety and the corporate culture of PG&E after a five year string of safety problems. That includes the tragic San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight and left dozens more hurt.

More than a year ago, it was found PG&E needed to do more to ensure safety of the public, its employees and contractors. Now, once again the focus is shifting to the CPUC as to how it will handle a potentially bankrupt utility.

The commission’s annual report for 2018 is due to the governor by Friday, February 1 and 2 Investigates will be looking to see if the CPUC is holding utilities accountable.