CPUC Picker Plaque

From left, CPUC members Martha Guzman Aceves, Liane Randolph, President Michael Picker, Genevieve Shiroma and Clifford Rechtschaffen.

Clean-energy advocates, utility representatives and fellow regulators discussed the tenure of outgoing California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker at his final CPUC meeting on Aug. 15, saying he had greatly contributed to the state's renewables goals.

Picker, who has been leading the CPUC since his appointment by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, announced his retirement earlier this summer. Replacing him is Marybel Batjer, previously the first secretary of the California Government Operations Agency, and a former cabinet secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (see CEM No. 1548 [9]).

"The  CPUC is one of the most important regulatory agencies in California,  with oversight over industries that impact nearly every Californian," Batjer said in an Aug. 16 CPUC news release. "I'm honored Governor Newsom selected me for this  role as the state faces unprecedented challenges caused by wildfires  and climate change. I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners, the staff of the CPUC, and the many stakeholders to the  CPUC's processes to ensure that we are all benefiting the state and its consumers." Her appointment still requires approval by the state Senate.

At his final CPUC meeting, Picker spoke about his time at the CPUC and his hope that the agency's employees feel they come to work with a sense of purpose.

"I'm not a big believer in legacy. I was raised to believe that you got a job, everybody works, you show up on time, you work hard, you do your best and you get a paycheck. And if you are so fortunate as to be a member of a labor union that's collectively bargaining on your behalf, then you have health benefits, weekends off and perhaps a retirement income. And so I have to say that I got that," Picker said.

His fellow commissioners commended his work at the commission, noting that he helmed the agency during a particularly turbulent period. Commissioner Liane Randolph said she and Picker had gone through a lot of tough decisions and issues together.

"President Picker has just had such a vision for transparency and openness and honesty, and really getting us to think not just of the cool, sexy stuff but thinking about how we can make the operation of the commission more efficient," Randolph said.

Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves said Picker had been committed to California's clean-energy goals over the course of his career.

"It is not an overstatement to say, had Michael Picker not been in this world, we would not have reached our renewable goals," she said.

Representatives from various organizations also addressed Picker's tenure during the meeting's public-comment period. Alex Morris, vice president of policy and operations with the California Energy Storage Alliance, noted that Picker had run the commission during a difficult time, and was saddled with "some of the most difficult utility problems probably being faced in the world." Laura Genao, managing director of state regulatory affairs with Southern California Edison, also thanked Picker for his half-decade-plus of service.

"Much works remains to be done, and we are here to work within the foundations that you've laid to do that," she added.

At the meeting, commissioners also approved San Diego Gas & Electric's proposal for a medium- and heavy-duty vehicle-charging infrastructure program [A18-01-012, D19-08-026].

The program was outlined in a November 2018 settlement agreement among SDG&E and several other parties, including the Public Advocates Office, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The program has a $107.4-million budget and will target around 6,000 vehicles. SDG&E is required to set up at least 300 make-ready installations in five years of the program, with 10 percent of its infrastructure budget set aside for transit and school buses, and 30 percent for infrastructure in disadvantaged communities.

The decision also authorizes SDG&E to conduct a vehicle-to-grid electric school bus pilot. The utility will equip 10 school buses with the capacity to interact with the grid, allowing them to bid into the California Independent System Operator market as distributed energy resources. The pilot has a budget of $1.7 million.

"It just really highlights and reiterates the role that our electric utilities have in the transition to a clean economy," Guzman Aceves said.

Commissioners also addressed the following issues at the Aug. 15 meeting:

  • Approved new energy-savings goals for energy-efficiency program portfolios for 2020-2030 [R13-11-005, D19-08-034].
  • Aligned the CPUC and California Air Resources Board's natural gas leakage-abatement program with SB 1371 and SB 1383 by restricting utilities from recovering costs when methane emissions are more than 20 percent below 2015 levels, among other things [R15-01-008, D19-08-020].

Kavya Balaraman covers the California Public Utilities Commission and PG&E Corp. for California Energy Markets. She has reported on climate policy and science in Washington, D.C. and graduated from Columbia University's Graduate of Journalism.