A utility watchdog group is calling for a key state regulator to recuse himself from evaluating or voting on a $150 million energy research proposal that he helped develop.
The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, filed a motion with the California Public Utilities Commission Thursday seeking to have commission President Michael Peevey disqualified from proceedings related to the project involving Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the state’s three investor-owned electric companies.
The California Energy Systems for the 21st Century Project, which Peevey asked the lab to develop in 2010, is expected to cost $30 million a year for five years. The three utilities, PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric Company, would fund the project and are seeking to recover their expenses from ratepayers, a move the commission would have to approve.
“At a time when customers are facing massive rate hikes, we don’t need to pay for another project dreamed up by the PUC,” said TURN spokeswoman Mindy Spatt.
TURN used the Public Records Act to acquire emails between Peevey, his chief of staff, and officials and consultants representing the utilities and Lawrence Livermore. In the correspondence, which began in 2010, Peevey described the plan as “our overall grand project” and reviewed drafts of proposals and testimony that within the next few months will be presented to the commission.
“President Peevey should play no further role is the decision-making process for a proposal that is largely of his own creation, and over which he played an ongoing role in its development and refinement, and over which he continues to display a sense of ownership,” TURN lawyers wrote in their letter to the commission.
The commission would not say whether Peevey would recuse himself.
“I and my fellow Commissioners will objectively look at the issue and make our own determinations regarding what we each believe is appropriate for the proceeding,” Peevey said in a statement.
In 2008, TURN’s complaints led to CPUC to scuttle a similar project, which also was conceived by Peevey. A proposed climate change institute at the University of California would have cost $60 million a year, which would have been covered by bill surcharges for customers of commission-regulated utilities.