- Emails released pursuant to a court order related to the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) closure case reveal the heads of California regulatory agencies have been meeting in private for years, a possible violation of the state's open-meetings law.
- According to the San Diego Union Tribune, newly-released emails show meetings among the "Energy Principals" included officials from the CPUC, Energy Commission, California Air Resources Board (CARB), State Water Resources Control Board and Independent System Operator.
- It is unclear whether the Energy Principals meetings are a violation of law, though some critics say it may be. The Utility Reform Network told the Tribune that "since there isn’t any transparency with respect to these meetings, we cannot determine whether their discussions are inappropriately focused on specific proposals pending before the agencies."
California regulators have drawn scrutiny for transparency issues before. Former California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) President Michael Peevey and an official with Southern California Edison reached a deal on the SONGS closing in a secret meeting in a hotel in Warsaw, Poland, in 2014. The fallout from the meeting pushed Peevey to resign at the end of that year.
The new emails, released as part of a records dispute that began in 2015, appear to show the heads of state agencies meeting privately to make decisions on cases that overlapped agencies. In early 2014, discussing the SONGS settlement, CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols wrote to other members of the group, saying "meeting with [the] renewables industry is a box we need to check."
She later wrote, "the basic fact is that nobody wants to meet with the renewable developers. ... No action will come from the meeting. So why are we having this meeting? We are doing this as a courtesy because the governor met with them when he visited and they sent a letter making specific requests that are the exact opposite of what the 5 large utility CEOs proposed when we met with them."
Last month, the CPUC approved a new settlement covering the SONGS closure costs, a deal that ultimately saves customers of SCE, San Diego Gas & Electric and the city of Riverside, approximately $750 million.
CPUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper defended the meetings, saying there was never a quorum of commissioners present so there was no need for the public to be notified.
In 2016, the California Department of General Services released an independent audit of the CPUC, finding issues with how regulators complied with business management practices. The audit found the commission contracted improperly with private law firms, did not properly maintain paperwork, and paid vendors for work that was incomplete or not up to specified standards.
Just before the audit was announced, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced plans for overhauling the agency, including the expansion of public access, records requirements and oversight.
There were also allegations of improper communications between the commission and Pacific Gas and Electric, following a 2010 gas line explosion that killed eight people and flattened a neighborhood in San Bruno. And PG&E has been fined for attempting to negotiate with CPUC commissioners, to obtain a favorable judge in its rate case.