The secret life of Michael Peevey

California's top energy regulator rolls with power company executives behind the scenes

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Michael Peevey, California's top utility regulator, attended several trips last year with utility executives.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY LUKE THOMAS

rebeccab@sfbg.com

Inside a legislative hearing room at the state capitol, things were beginning to get uncomfortable. Roughly five weeks had passed since a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pipeline explosion killed eight and leveled an entire San Bruno neighborhood, and this California Senate committee hearing was an early attempt to get answers.

San Bruno residents who lost loved ones in the deadly explosion huddled in the front row, their eyes fixed on company representatives and agency bureaucrats as they spoke. At the back of the room, a band of immaculately dressed PG&E executives and utility lawyers sat clustered together.

Richard Clark, director of the consumer protection and safety division of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), fielded questions from visibly frustrated state legislators. Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) wanted know why the CPUC hadn't done anything when PG&E ignored an impaired section of the ruptured pipeline even after it was granted $5 million to fix it.

"Did the PUC do any accounting when you gave them $5 million?" Florez demanded. "Do we just give them money and cross our fingers and hope they fix it? Is that what we do? Until some terrible tragedy occurs?"

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said the CPUC needed to step it up and start practicing serious hands-on oversight. He recalled a tragedy that occurred in 2008 when a gas leak in Rancho Cordova triggered a pipeline explosion, killing one person and injuring several others. Although an investigation determined that PG&E was at fault, the CPUC hadn't yet gotten around to fining the company.

"We've got a pattern here," Leno said. "And we're not doing anything differently."

Less than three weeks after CPUC staff members were grilled in Sacramento, Michael Peevey — president of the CPUC and the top energy official in the state — boarded an airplane for Madrid. He was embarking on a 12-day travel-study excursion, with stops in Sevilla and Barcelona, sponsored by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy (CFEE).

Peevey's wife, California Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale), was along for the trip. So were two other state senators, several members of the state Assembly, CPUC commissioner Nancy Ryan, and a host of representatives from the energy industry. The group included executives from Chevron, Mirant (now GenOn, the owner of the Potrero power plant), Covanta Energy Corporation, Shell Energy North America, and engineering giant AECOM. High-ranking executives of the state's investor-owned utilities also participated, including Fong Wan, the senior vice president of energy procurement for PG&E.

Although strict rules normally govern commissioners' interactions with parties that have a financial stake in the outcomes of commission rulings, there wasn't anything especially unusual about Peevey traveling internationally with a group that included representatives from the same companies his regulatory commission oversees. CFEE trips happen every year. The nonprofit has footed the bill to fly groups of regulators, legislators, and utility executives to prime vacation destinations like Italy, Brazil, and South Africa in recent years, excursions organizers say are critical for educating top-level stakeholders about worldwide best practices for sustainable systems. However, groups such as The Utility Reform Network (TURN) have decried CFEE trips as "lobbying junkets."

As PG&E and the CPUC both work to win back the public's confidence after their latest deadly failure, it's worth analyzing whether their relationship — shaped by vacations together at exotic locales — has grown too cozy.

 

Comments

Great job Rebecca-now we know how it why there are no consequences to blowing up a neighborhood.

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

The Sacramento Bee did an article on energy regulators/energy company junkets back in 2009 that is also worth a look.

Posted by Guest on May. 25, 2011 @ 11:56 am

Totally disgusted - Peevey has to be ousted, Governor Brown! Corruption cannot be tolerated. Peevey, politician wife, SCE, lavish trips, coddling utilities ... this is like a corrupt third world dictatorship...Peevey is a national embarassment.

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 11:22 am

1. Fire this worthless piece of garbage now, along with Richard Clark. They're either corrupt, or incompetent, or both. In any case, they need to go now.

2. Investigate both for corruption

Posted by Guest on May. 27, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

1. WIRELESS SMART METERS – 100 TIMES MORE RADIATION THAN CELL PHONES.
Video Interview: Nuclear Scientist, Daniel Hirsch, (5 minutes: 38 seconds).
http://stopsmartmeters.org/2011/04/20/daniel-hirsch-on-ccsts-fuzzy-math/

2. WIRELESS SMART METERS – CANCER, NERVOUS SYSTEM DAMAGE, ADVERSE REPRODUCTION AFFECTS.
Video Interview: Dr. Carpenter, New York Public Health Department, Dean of Public Health, (2 minutes: 23 seconds).
http://emfsafetynetwork.org/?p=3946

3. THE KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE IN STOCKHOLM (the University that gives the Nobel Prizes) ISSUES GLOBAL HEALTH WARNING AGAINST WIRELESS SMART METERS.
2-page Press Release:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/48148346/Karolinska-Institute-Press-Release

Posted by Guest on May. 28, 2011 @ 11:03 pm

your links about smart meters are a hoax. some nuts print a paper and you feel like smart meters are the end of the world.

get a life you mis-informed person.

they didn't issue a warning agaist smart meters in the report- they said 4 billion earthlings are affectd by radio waves- micro waves, etc. BFD. you probably dictated this on your cell phone.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2011 @ 7:40 am

No, actually the dangers of radio emissions are more and more being recognized as quite real. Europe is already beginning to restrict cell phone towers and emissions because of this.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 19, 2011 @ 10:06 am

Thanks for this, hope you will follow-up with a story on what power the CPUC has and how little recourse the public has. The control is almost absolute, but the oversight is close to zero.

This is why the toxic plume from Hinkley CA (Erin Brockovich) continues to grow and spread 20 years later. And, why utilities are seeking to evade responsibilities for Sierra wildfires caused by lack of power line maintenance. And, why on a Christmas morning in Rancho Cordova, a faulty gas connection critically burned and killed a family. Why underground vaults in San Francisco have been exploding for years, flinging manhole covers into the surrounding community. (The 'fix': put a spring on the cover because the explosions are sure to continue...) Why residents living around the Tesoro plant so often 'shelter in place'. Why funds meant to address flawed gas pipes were not used for that purpose. And why we have billions wasted on a flawed SmartMeter rollout that lacks complete R&D.

The CPUC licenses our nuclear power plants; not a reassuring thought!

Posted by Guest on May. 30, 2011 @ 11:27 am

I appreciate this in-depth work on exposing the extent of the CPUC
President's coziness with those he is expected to regulate. Hopefully
it will be widely read and will hasten Mr. Peevey's departure and
assist in the appointing of responsible new leadership.

PG&E's SmartMeter debacle is a perfect example of a misguided, large-
scale industry experiment that has escaped much-needed regulation.
The serious health effects of the meters' wireless technology has
already ruined lives, leaving sensitive individuals sick, homeless, unable to
work and without recourse. That's in addition to the billing and
privacy issues, fire risk and real dangers of SmartGrid security
violation.

Keep up the good work!

Posted by Guest on May. 31, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

I am shocked about this illuminating news about Michael Peevey!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 21, 2011 @ 8:27 pm

Resistance among Californian utilities to residential feed in tariffs reveals a protectionist attitude not even seen in Europe's energy industry these days…
http://bit.ly/q6XTDI

Posted by Guest on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 9:40 am