The Difference Between the CEC and CPUC


I know what you’re thinking – a really exciting topic. But this question has actually come up in conversation a remarkable number of times in the last couple of weeks. This is not intended to be a definitive guide, but just to start the delineation between the organizations.

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Basics

The CEC is California’s primary energy policy and planning agency.

The CPUC regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies.

This post will focus only on the energy aspects of the CPUC’s role.

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The California Energy Commission (CEC)

The five CEC commissioners are appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are five years. Commissioners must represent the following specific areas of expertise: law, environment, economics, science/engineering, and the public at large.

The CEC’s responsibilities include:

  • Forecasting future energy needs and keeping historical energy data.
  • Licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger.
  • Promoting energy efficiency by setting the state’s appliance and building efficiency standards and working with local government to enforce those standards.
  • Supporting public interest energy research that advances energy science and technology through research, development, and demonstration programs.
  • Supporting renewable energy by providing market support to existing, new, and emerging renewable technologies; providing incentives for small wind and fuel cell electricity systems; and providing incentives for solar electricity systems in new home construction.
  • Developing and implementing the state Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program to reduce the state’s petroleum dependency and help attain the state climate change policies.
  • Administering more than $300 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding through the state energy program, the energy efficiency conservation and block grant program; the energy efficiency appliance rebate program and the energy assurance and emergency program.
  • Planning for and directing state response to energy emergencies.

The CEC is located in Sacramento, CA.

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

The five CPUC commissioners are also appointed by the California governor and must be approved by the Senate. Terms are six years.

The CPUC regulates investor owned utilities (IOUs) that distribute electricity and natural gas, including Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and Southern California Gas Company.

The CPUC does not regulate municipal utilities, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

The CPUC’s mission is the following:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission serves the public interest by protecting consumers and ensuring the provision of safe, reliable utility service and infrastructure at reasonable rates, with a commitment to environmental enhancement and a healthy California economy.  We regulate utility services, stimulate innovation, and promote competitive markets, where possible, in the communications, energy, transportation, and water industries.

The CPUC has a number of different divisions; the Energy Division assists Commission activities in the electricity, natural gas, steam, and petroleum pipeline industries. Energy Division handles the regulation and Commission approval of official rates and terms of service for energy IOUs.

Because the regulated California utilities are so large, and their programs reach so many customers, CPUC energy policy decisions and goals have wide influence in California. The CPUC touches programs in energy efficiency, demand response, low-income assistance, distributed generation, and self-generation, among others. It has a role in California climate policy. It is overseeing the CA utilities’ switch to Smart Grid technologies. The CPUC regulated electric generation and procurement, electric rates and markets, gas policy and rates, and electric transmission and distribution.

CPUC headquarters are in San Francisco, CA.

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They Don’t Have Water Meters?!


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Many residents of California don’t have water meters. According to a recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle by Peter Gleick, the recent legislation mandating water meters is needed, as the many residents of California that don’t have meters are very reluctant to install them.

But everyone should have meters. According to Ellen Hanak, a water researcher with the Public Policy Institute on California, metered cities use about 15 percent less water than unmetered cities, and cities with a tiered rate system use an additional 10 percent less (via KQED).

A few statistics from Gleick’s column:

— Sacramento only has meters in 25 percent of residences, and has no plans to meter everyone else anytime soon.

— In the San Joaquin Valley, more than half of all residents don’t have water meters.

— The city of Fresno charges all single-family households a flat rate, no matter how much water is used.

Fresno’s water rates are some of the lowest in California, and it has some of the highest water use (3 times as high as Los Angeles residents, and 5 times as high as San Francisco residents, via The California Report). There is an interesting study comparing water rates – when the study was conducted (2006), the average monthly charge was $18.52 in Fresno County, $37.55 in Alameda County, and $57.25 in Santa Cruz County.

The meters are coming. There are several laws that will require the installation of meters for all Californians (via KQED).

— All homes built after 1992 must have meters.

— Cities that receive federal water have to install meters by 2013.

— All California cities have to install meters by 2025.

Seriously, though, 2025 is a long time for a state that has major water management issues.

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Last year, there was a story from The California Report that covers the struggle to meter reluctant Fresno residents (listen to the story here).