- Gov. Jerry Brown wants the California Public Utilities Commission to budget $1.69 million for a Division of Safety Advocates (DSA) that would monitor and report on the safety of utility infrastructure to prevent failures like the Alison Canyon methane leak and the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion, the San Diego Union Tribune reports.
- Like the Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA), which testifies to the CPUC in rate cases, the 11-person DSA would independently represent safety interests in commission proceedings. The proposal is part of the governor's budget and the DSA could be operational by 2017 if it wins approval.
- The budget proposal describes DSA’s duty as presenting safety issues to the regulators “irrespective of the cost impact.” The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a watchdog group on behalf of ratepayers, argued it is not safety but utility management that must be monitored.
Plagued by high-profile safety issues like Aliso Canyon, the largest methane leak in U.S. history, Gov. Brown proposed nearly $1.7 million for a new division at the CPUC that would monitor utility infrastructure and intervene directly in regualtory proceedings.
“Similar to when the PUC established the Public Staff Division (now known as Office of Ratepayer Advocates) in 1984 in response to unprecedented utility requests for general rate increases, the PUC requests to establish a Division of Safety Advocates in response to unprecedented failures of utility infrastructure over the past five years that threaten the safety of Californians." the proposal explains.
While the ORA currently advocates for ratepayers before the commission, it cannot advocate for safety because that could conflict with its responsibility to argue for the lowest possible rates, the governor's proposal goes on. The ORA recognizes the need to fund utilities to operate safely but “its mandate to keep rates low is fundamentally at odds with the need to increase expenditures on safety-related investments.”
Similarly the role of the commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) is to ensure utilities comply with safety requirements, bring enforcement actions when it discovers violations, and advise the commission in proceedings concerned with safety. It is not in a position to comment, as the DSA could, on safety considerations pertaining to utility infrastructure proposals.
Brown and the commission have both come under criticism in recent months for being too cozy with the state's investor owned utilities, and the Union Tribune reports that at least one, San Diego Gas & Electric, supports the DSA proposal.
“This new division could be a strong complement to the ongoing efforts at the commission," a utility spokesperson told the paper.