CPUC HQ 1124

CPUC headquarters in San Francisco.

The California Public Utilities Commission on Nov. 18 denied a journalist's request to publicly release communications between CPUC President Marybel Batjer's staff and employees of Gov. Gavin Newsom's office related to Pacific Gas & Electric’s bankruptcy.

Brandon Rittiman, a reporter at ABC10 in Sacramento, last year requested that the CPUC release emails, text messages and other communications that occurred between the commission and the governor's office, specifically during the time when the CPUC was approving PG&E's bankruptcy exit plan in 2020. Rittiman said the messages should be released under the California Public Records Act, which outlines the rights of the public to access certain information from agencies.

"There is a need for preserving the confidentiality of deliberative communications since disclosure would discourage candid and thorough discussions between Commissioners, their advisors, and members of the Governor's office," the CPUC said in its approved resolution on the matter.

In September, Batjer abruptly announced her departure from the CPUC by the end of this year, saying that she was grateful for Newsom's support during her tenure. Newsom appointed Batjer CPUC president in August 2019 and reappointed her in December 2020 to a six-year term ending Jan. 1, 2027 (see CEM No. 1661).

Newsom on Nov. 22 said he will replace Batjer with Alice Reynolds, currently the governor's senior energy advisor. Reynolds will need confirmation from the state Senate.

"As my lead energy policy expert, Alice has been indispensable in our work to move California toward a cleaner, affordable and reliable energy future, navigate the bankruptcy of the state's largest investor-owned utility and accelerate the state’s progress toward meeting our clean energy goals, among other critical issues. I look forward to her leadership as President of the California Public Utilities Commission," Newsom said in a written statement.

Separately, the CPUC's Public Advocates Office on Nov. 15 asked the commission to move forward with a $106-million fine against PG&E for utility violations related to public-safety power shut-offs in the state.

PG&E representatives requested a motion to stay the fine because the proposed process to pay the fine could cause customer confusion and dissatisfaction, the PAO's filing says. However, the advocates office said that PG&E's motion to stay lacks merit and that the commission does not have grounds to grant the motion to stay.

The Utility Reform Network also asked the CPUC to deny PG&E's motion to stay, saying the commission should direct the utility to provide customer bill credits, using money from the fine, by April 15, 2022.

PG&E violated the state's Public Utilities Code, a previous CPUC decision and a CPUC resolution during PSPS events in the fall of 2019, the CPUC said in its September decision proposing the fines [R18-12-005]. During the 2019 PSPS events, PG&E's website was unavailable or nonfunctional and the utility did not notify about 50,000 customers and 1,100 medical-baseline customers impacted by the shut-offs, the CPUC said in the decision.

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Staff Writer

David Krause is an energy reporter covering the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board. He writes about transportation, climate change, utilities, and wildfires. He has an MFA in Writing, an MA in English, and a BS in Civil Engineering.