After appointments, PUC presidency still up in the air

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a flurry of new members to the state Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission this week, but a question that has bedeviled the Capitol for weeks remained unanswered: Will there be a new president of the PUC?

Brown has a third vacancy he can fill immediately on the PUC, but he declined to fill a third vacant seat on the panel when he announced his other appointments on Tuesday.
That seat, vacated by Commissioner Nancy Ryan, who Brown shifted to the commission staff, means that the governor can fill the slot with another appointee. He can also name a president – or not. The title does not follow the position.

The current PUC president is Michael Peevey, a former president of Southern California Edison and Edison International. He has headed the PUC for nearly a decade, and he has been a regulatory figure of unusual influence. His connections at the highest levels of the administrations of Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger translated into power at the PUC, where he was accompanied by political allies.

But now the political landscape has shifted dramatically. Both of Brown’s appointments are viewed as aggressively pro-consumer – ratepayer activist Michael Florio, 58, a lawyer with The Utility Reform Network, and Catherine Sandoval, 50, a Santa Clara University law school professor and communications expert, and a Rhodes Scholar. Florio, particularly, has battled the PUC for decades over rates the power of the huge investor-owned utilities, and has not been particularly sympathetic to Peevey, the former utility executive.

Brown is believed to favor John Geesman, a political supporter and former Energy Commission executive, as his third appointment to the PUC, and would be a likely choice as president. But within the administration, there was concern about doing the presidential appointment at the same time as the others because of potentially negative effects on the energy markets.  Peevey is not expected to stay on the PUC if Brown names another person as president. The departure of a figure so well-versed in utility operations could cause concern.

At the Energy Commission, Brown named Commissioner Bob Weisenmiller as the new chair effective Feb. 6, filling the position currently held by Karen Douglas. The governor also appointed Carla Peterman, a renewable energy expert from UC Berkeley, to the commission. Peterman, like Sandoval, is a Rhodes scholar.

Weisenmiller, 62, of Berkeley, was a commissioner with the California Energy Commission from 2010 to 2011, He was a co-founder and executive vice president of MRW & Associates from 1986 to 2010 and was a co-founder and executive vice president of Independent Power Corporation from 1982 to 1986. He was an assistant to a commissioner, manager of the Special Projects Office and director of the Office of Policy Development and Program Evaluation with the California Energy Commission from 1977 to 1982.

Peterman, 32, of Oakland, serves on the board of directors for the Utility Reform Network. Peterman has conducted extensive research on solar photovoltaic markets and climate change, including co-authoring a series of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory publications on cost and deployment trends in the U.S. solar photovoltaic market.

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