California's top energy regulator rolls with power company executives behind the scenes
A YEAR IN THE LIFE
Spain wasn't the only country Peevey jetted off to with complimentary airfare in 2010. According to a Form 700 filing with the Fair Political Practices Commission, he also traveled to Germany from Aug. 1–5 for a sustainable energy study tour organized by the Energy Coalition. Joining that trip were representatives from investor-owned utilities PG&E, Southern California Edison, and Sempra, plus various city officials and energy experts from the Swedish Energy Agency.
The group stayed at the Radisson Blu Berlin Hotel, which is famous for its AquaDom. "Standing at 25 meters high, it is the world's largest cylindrical aquarium containing 1 million liters of saltwater," according to the hotel website. All Radisson Blu Berlin guests have free access to "the hotel's well-being area," called Splash, which features a pool, sauna, steam bath, and fitness room.
Based in Irvine, the Energy Coalition's Board of Directors is chaired by Warren Mitchell, a retired chair of the Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.. Another director is a utility lawyer who also sits on the board of directors of the Northeast Gas Association, a consortium of natural gas companies in the northeastern U.S.
Founded in the late 1970s by John Phillips to get large businesses to reduce energy consumption in partnership with utilities, the Energy Coalition has arranged excursions for years to bring energy regulators, city officials, and utility executives to Sweden (where Phillips' wife was born) to exchange ideas on energy issues. The nonprofit organizes an annual summit called the Aspen Accord, "an energy policy forum where cities, utilities, regulators, and end-users collaborate to identify problems and propose solutions to our most pressing energy issues," according to a 2009 tax filing. While it used to be held in Aspen, Colo., the most recent Aspen Accord was held at San Francisco's Westin St. Francis. Peevey gave introductory remarks, and the conference featured talks from PG&E, among others.
Craig Perkins, executive director, told the Guardian that the Aspen Accord and study trips are designed to create a venue for major stakeholders to arrive at outside-the-box solutions. "What we try to do is get everybody out of their comfort zone, if you will — that's the best way to support more creative thinking," he said. Official regulatory proceedings are "so rigidly legalistic and bureaucratic that it almost prevents any creative thought from happening," he added. "We're not in San Francisco, we're not in Sacramento, we're not in corporate offices — let's just talk about these really big issues, and really big challenges."
The Germany tour included meetings with the Berlin Energy Agency, talks about climate policy, and a tour of an eco-community in Freiburg. Perkins said utility companies must to pay their own way on the trips, but costs are covered for governmental officials.
An Energy Coalition tax filing reveals that board members receive a monthly retainer of $1,000, quarterly meeting fees of $1,000, plus $500 for each board committee meeting. Teleconferences also result in $500 meeting fees.
Several years ago, the Energy Coalition partnered with PG&E to create the Business Energy Coalition, which paid businesses including Bank of America and the Westin St. Francis $50 per KW of energy savings for banding together to reduce energy during peak load hours. According to a tax filing, total annual Energy Coalition revenue dropped from $10.7 million in 2008 to $3.75 million in 2009 "due to large revenue receipts for participant incentives" for the Business Energy Coalition program, as "revenues were used for direct pass-through payments to program participants and contractors." In 2006, according to a CPUC filing, PG&E paid the Energy Coalition $227,373 for unspecified consulting services.