The secret life of Michael Peevey - Page 5

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

In addition to the $8,880 trip to Spain (comped), and the $6,583 trip to Germany last year (comped), Peevey's 2010 disclosure form shows that he also went to Australia May 14-19 to participate in a conference hosted by the Sydney-based Total Environment Center called "Smart Metering to Empower the Smart Grid" ($12,577, comped). And while it doesn't show up on his FPPC filing, an agenda for CFEE's Energy Roundtable Summit from Dec. 9-10 at the Carneros Inn in Napa lists Peevey as a participant. A glance through past filings suggests that 2010 was no anomaly; it's a typical year in the life of a jet-setting utilities regulator.

 

GREEN CAPITALISM

Peevey once served as president of the Southern California Edison, an investor-owned utility, and was president of NewEnergy, Inc., an electricity company that later was sold to Williams Energy. Yet his professional image is that of a forward-thinker on climate change. According to a bio on the CPUC website, he's received awards for achievements on green and sustainable energy from various organizations throughout California.

In 2005, speaking in Berkeley at an annual conference for the California Climate Action Registry, Peevey touted a list of his accomplishments on sustainable energy. "My final example of PUC actions on climate change is related to PG&E's bankruptcy," he said. "When they emerged from bankruptcy last year, one of many conditions of our support for their reorganization plan was that they create a $30 million Clean Energy Fund, devoted to investing in California businesses developing and producing clean technologies."

What Peevey didn't mention is that he chairs the board of directors of that fund. As a "nonprofit venture capital fund," the obscure, San Francisco-based CalCEF sounds like an oxymoron. Based on the terms of the PG&E bankruptcy settlement, it's governed by a nine-member board consisting of three CPUC appointees, three PG&E appointees, and the rest selected jointly by the CPUC and PG&E appointees. Other board members include past PG&E executives, a former member of the California Energy Commission, and a former chair of the board of governors of the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), the body that ensures statewide grid reliability and blocked the closure of the Mirant Potrero Power Plant for years.

The nonprofit's stated mission is to catalyze clean energy investment to aid in the state's transition away from fossil fuels. CalCEF president Dan Adler described it as a sort of seasoned guide for fledgling green companies that might otherwise fail to navigate the murky, complicated clean-energy sector. CalCEF is in a position to usher start-ups toward success with a combination of funding, networking, and insider wisdom on state energy policy.

Among the challenges that the clean-energy sector faces, Adler said, are the utilities themselves. "They are effectively monopoly, or oligopoly, controllers of the energy industry," he said. "And they don't like outside innovation coming and disrupting their work process or their relationship with their customers."

CalCEF aims to guide the finance community "to be partners with what public policy is doing around clean tech and clean energy," Adler went on. "There's a tremendous amount of money to be made, but there's also a lot of opportunity for money to be wasted. If you don't have a private-sector investment community that understands these rules and can put their money alongside these rules in a collaborative framework, we're very unlikely to achieve the really aggressive energy targets that California has set."

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