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PUC chief to step down

A devastated zone in San Bruno following the 2010 gas pipeline explosion. (Photo: Brocken Inaglory)

Michael R. Peevey, the beleaguered president of the California Public Utilities Commission who has served under three governors, said Thursday he is stepping down at the end of the year.

His decision not to seek reappointment follows turmoil at the powerful regulatory agency that includes state and federal investigations amid complaints that the PUC has been too cozy with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the state’s largest utility.

Peevey, whose wife, Carol Liu, is a Democratic state senator representing La Canada Flintridge, is the former president of Southern California Edison and Edison International.

“I originally planned to make the following announcement at the CPUC’s regularly-scheduled Voting Meeting on October 16th, but instead I am moving the announcement to today to state that I will not seek reappointment to the CPUC when my term expires at the end of this year,” Peevey, 76, said in a statement distributed by his office.

“Twelve years as president is enough,” he added. “The governor, of course, will make a decision as to my successor in due time. I will speak more extensively regarding my terms as CPUC President at the last voting meeting of the year on Dec. 18.”

Peevey, whose wife, Carol Liu, is a Democratic state senator representing La Canada Flintridge, is the former president of Southern California Edison and Edison International. He was appointed to the five-member PUC board in 2002 in the wake of the state’s electricity crisis by former Gov. Gray Davis, and reappointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to another six-year term.

Complaints about PUC’s activities intensified with disclosures in emails that PG&E executives and PUC officials had closer contacts than had been publicly acknowledged.

Gov. Brown, who had been pressured after his 2010 election to jettison Peevey as PUC president, rejected those efforts, at least in part because of concerns of Wall Street about potential instability at the PUC if Peevey was replaced. Among its other duties, the PUC regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities – Edison, PG&E and San Diego Gas and Electric Co.

PUC President Michael R. Peevey

PUC President Michael R. Peevey

Viewed with suspicion by consumer activists from his earlier days on the commission, criticism of Peevey has intensified in recent years in the aftermath of the September 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and leveled dozens of houses. The pipeline was operated by PG&E.

The Utility Reform Network, or TURN, a consumer group that tracks the PUC, urged Peevey to leave immediately.

“TURN is in no way satisfied that Michael Peevey has announced that he is not seeking reappointment to the CPUC,” said TURN’s Mark Toney. “…TURN renews our calls for him to resign immediately, and for Governor Brown to replace him as president immediately.”

A federal investigation found defects in the 54-year-old pipeline, and questions were raised about the PUC’s competence in its capacity as a regulator over PG&E’s operations.

The agency has been roiled staff firings and the departure of Peevey’s own chief of staff.

Separately, in 2012, state auditors found that PG&E had diverted some $100 million from a safety fund and used the money instead for employee bonuses.

Complaints about PUC’s activities intensified with disclosures in emails that PG&E executives and PUC officials had closer contacts than had been publicly acknowledged.

Last month, a two-member panel of administrative law judges at the PUC said PG&E should pay an unprecedented $1.4 billion in fines and penalties stemming from the San Bruno blast.

Brown has not indicated who he will appoint as Peevey’s successor, although one contender is Michael Picker, who Brown recently named to the commission. Picker has been Brown’s top adviser on renewable energy.

 


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