Electricity rates could increase if the California Public Utilities Commission approves a plan to fund a $152 million research project by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The cost and the project itself are strongly opposed by The Utility Reform Network, along with state legislators who say the commission’s president is too close to the project to cast a vote.
“The Legislature is the proper body to decide to tax the public if it believes this research is valuable,” said Mindy Spatt, communications director for TURN. “There’s nothing in it for customers at this point — certainly nothing that would justify raising utility bills.”
The research and development agreement would provide Lawrence Livermore $152 million over five years. The research could result in savings of $552 million on resource planning and another $8.75 million on improved natural gas operations, better safety and reliability of gas and electricity flows, and tighter cyber security. It also would increase the processing of smart meter data.
Fifty-five percent of the project would be funded by PG&E, while Southern California Edison would cover 35 percent and San Diego Gas and Electric would cover the remaining 10 percent. All three would be allowed to increase ratepayer costs to fund the research, but potential figures were not available.
A judgment by an administrative law judge allows the CPUC to vote on the project, which it plans to do today.
According to the ruling, utilities have historically provided funding for research at the expense of ratepayers. But TURN and state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, questioned the involvement of commission President Michael Peevey.
Hill said Peevey has given millions of dollars in research funds to companies he has helped create. As a result, Hill introduced legislation that would require third-party oversight of projects funded by the CPUC.
Peevey did not return calls for comment.
TURN submitted a request that Peevey recuse himself from the vote since he has played a “substantial” role in bringing the proposed research project to the CPUC. The group included copies of email correspondence dating back to 2010 that was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Some emails say Peevey requested that a research proposal by the labs be submitted to the CPUC and indicated that he visited the labs in anticipation of the application.
“Having worked so hard to get the project proposal to the Commission, President Peevey is going to be predisposed to having the Commission approve some form of the Project,” the recusal request said.