PG&E slammed on moves in Marin

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By David R. Baker

Cal­i­for­nia reg­u­la­tors on Mon­day bluntly warned Pa­cific Gas and Elec­tric Co. that some of its ac­tions to un­der­mine Marin County’s new pub­lic power pro­gram break state rules and must end — im­me­di­ately.

PG&E has waged an ag­gres­sive cam­paign ask­ing county res­i­dents not to join the Marin En­ergy Author­ity, a new type of pub­lic power agency that will be­gin de­liv­er­ing elec­tric­ity to its first cus­tomers on Fri­day. Act­ing on com­plaints from Marin of­fi­cials, the Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion last month warned PG&E to tone down some of its tac­tics.

But on Mon­day, the com­mis­sion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor sent PG&E a sternly worded let­ter say­ing that key el­e­ments of the com­pany’s cam­paign vi­o­late state reg­u­la­tions. AB117 — the 2002 Cal­i­for­nia law that cre­ated this kind of pub­lic power agency — re­quires tra­di­tional util­i­ties such as PG&E to co­op­er­ate with the new en­ergy providers, not block them.

“The Com­mis­sion — and

PG&E — must com­ply with the en­tirety of AB117, not just se­lected por­tions,” wrote Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Paul Clanon.

He warned that the util­ity’s phone calls and news­pa­per ads ask­ing Marin res­i­dents to opt out of the pro­gram don’t fol­low proper pro­ce­dures and must end im­me­di­ately. Any res­i­dents who have been re­moved from the Marin En­ergy Author­ity’s cus­tomer list as a re­sult of those calls and ads must be iden­ti­fied and in­formed that they have not prop­erly opted out of the author­ity’s ser­vice.

“We are cur­rently re­view­ing the let­ter from the CPUC and will re­spond in the com­ing days,” said PG&E spokesman An­drew Sou­vall.

San Fran­cisco’s PG&E could face a fine if it doesn’t fol­low the com­mis­sion’s or­ders, Clanon said Mon­day in an in­ter­view. He said, how­ever, that he hopes the com­pany will choose to co­op­er­ate in­stead.

Fights over power

PG&E, Cal­i­for­nia’s largest util­ity, is locked in a bit­ter fight over pub­lic power ef­forts both at the lo­cal level and across the state.

In both Marin County and San Fran­cisco, the com­pany has re­sisted ef­forts to cre­ate new “com­mu­nity choice ag­gre­ga­tion” agen­cies in which cities or coun­ties buy elec­tric­ity on be­half of res­i­dents. PG&E has also poured $30 mil­lion into a bal­lot mea­sure — Propo­si­tion 16 — that would force lo­cal gov­ern­ments in­ter­ested in en­ter­ing the pub­lic power busi­ness to win the ap­proval of two-thirds of their vot­ers first.

Un­der state law, res­i­dents of any com­mu­nity that launches a com­mu­nity choice ag­gre­ga­tion ser­vice will au­to­mat­i­cally be­come cus­tomers of that ser­vice un­less they take steps to opt out. So PG&E has been phon­ing Marin County res­i­dents, urg­ing them to opt out, and then trans­fer­ring them to a call cen­ter to re­move them from the Marin En­ergy Author­ity’s cus­tomer list.

That prac­tice must end, Clanon warned.

Limited pro­ce­dures

Cal­i­for­nia reg­u­la­tions, he wrote, give each com­mu­nity choice ag­gre­ga­tion pro­gram the right to set the pro­ce­dures un­der which cus­tomers will opt out, choos­ing from a limited menu of pro­ce­dures ap­proved by the state. The Marin En­ergy Author­ity es­tab­lished two means of opt­ing out: cus­tomers could call a spe­cific num­ber or visit a spe­cific Web site. Any opt-outs that PG&E so­licited through its phone calls, there­fore, are in­valid, Clanon wrote.

Sim­i­larly, PG&E news­pa­per ads in the Marin In­de­pen­dent Jour­nal have in­cluded opt-out forms that Marin County res­i­dents could mail back to the com­pany. Those, too, are in­valid, Clanon wrote. PG&E must work with the util­i­ties com­mis­sion to iden­tify those res­i­dents and in­form them of the proper ways of opt­ing out. The ex­act num­ber of res­i­dents who must be con­tacted isn’t yet known.

The larger point, Clanon said in the in­ter­view, is that the com­pany must start co­op­er­at­ing fully with the en­ergy author­ity, as state law re­quires.

“If you are the util­ity act­ing in ways that look like they’re de­signed to kill the CCA, that doesn’t look like full co­op­er­a­tion to me,” he said.

Marin County Su­per­vi­sor Charles McGlashan, who serves as the en­ergy author­ity’s chair­man, said the author­ity will launch on Fri­day as planned.

“We’ve got enough cus­tomers to go live, and then other cus­tomers can be added on as we clean up this PG&E mess,” he said.

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