EDITORIAL: Michael Picker a good addition to California Public Utilities Commission

FresnoFebruary 8, 2014 

Gov. Jerry Brown got a win Monday when a panel of federal judges gave California two more years to cut its prison population.

RANDALL BENTON — RBenton@sacbee.com

The California Public Utilities Commission, with strong appointments by the governor, needs to pursue energy issues and internal governance to become more accessible and effective.

One dedicated public servant is exiting the California Public Utilities Commission and another is joining it. The commission was better off for Mark Ferron's nearly three years in office and will improve with the addition of Sacramento's Michael Picker.

After 25 years in banking and finance, Ferron was appointed to the commission by Gov. Jerry Brown in March 2011. He is stepping down before the end of his term for health reasons, and we wish him the best.

Ferron has been a dogged defender of the California Renewable Energy Resources Act, specifically the goal of having utilities increase their use of renewable energy resources to 25% by 2016 and 33% by 2020.

As he left office, he issued a "final report" that the governor, other commissioners and the public should heed.

He began with a shot at policy failures in the nation's capital — due "in large part to the obstructionists in the Republican Tea Party and their allies in the fossil fuel industry" — and taking pride in California's efforts to tackle energy and climate change issues.

But Ferron also targeted the commission itself for a "serious governance problem." It is not structured to provide effective guidance and oversight to management and staff. He made recommendations for change that are worth considering.

While California remains among the leading states for energy efficiency, Ferron believes it has "lost pace with the best" in getting to a new level of energy savings. He had been exploring retrofit strategies for commercial, university, school and hospital buildings, as well as homes.

And he fears that the state will not be bold enough in pursuing "distributed generation" — onsite or small energy systems located close to where energy is consumed, such as rooftop solar.

Picker is well-placed to address these issues. An elected member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District board since 2012 and a senior adviser to the governor for renewable energy facilities for years, he told The Sacramento Bee editorial board that Brown tapped him to "make the activities of the commission more accessible to people while preserving legal requirements and public decision making."

On distributed generation, Picker says he believes we should not get caught up in a war between utilities, which have an investment in central plants and transmission, and solar installers or advocates of microturbines. As he points out, they need each other for connections to the grid. What we need is a vision of what the grid will look like if we have variable resources and variable demand. How do we fit the pieces together so we have reliable power?

Safety remains a concern that Ferron did not address in his final report and that Picker should. Safety for the CPUC still comes after affordability, energy reliability and environmental concerns.

The CPUC plays an important role in assuring safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable power, telecommunications and commercial transportation in California. Brown's appointment of Picker will help move this century-old commission into the modern era.


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