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April 14, 2010 > Calif regulators issue new rules on public power

Calif regulators issue new rules on public power

By Jason Dearen, Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP), Apr 09 - State energy regulators have issued new guidelines meant to curb tactics used by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in its campaign against Marin County's new public power agency.

Among the new rules issued Thursday by the California Public Utilities Commission is one that says utility companies cannot simply refuse to supply electricity to community choice aggregators.

Community choice aggregation, or CCA, allows local government to purchase energy on the wholesale market for residents who choose to participate.

This new type of public power agency was allowed by state legislation passed in 2002 after the state's energy crisis.

Marin Clean Energy, the first to go online in California, will begin offering an alternative to PG&E in May. San Francisco is also planning a CCA.

Under terms of Marin's CCA, the agency will buy power from more renewable sources than is currently available from PG&E. The electricity will still be delivered over PG&E transmission lines and customers will still receive their bills from the utility company.

Marin Clean Energy last month filed a complaint with the CPUC accusing PG&E of violating state law by and spending millions ``to kill a local program designed to provide residents and businesses with twice the renewable energy as the giant utility for the same price.''

San Francisco officials have complained of the same tactics being used there.

The new guidelines also create stricter rules for how utilities can approach customers about opting out of a CCA, which anyone can do. It instructs utilities that they should not solicit customers about opting out before the new CCA agency has had a chance to do so first.

PG&E said Friday it had received a list of initial customers from Marin Clean Energy and will now contact only those customers in its opt-out solicitations, said Katie Romans, a PG&E spokeswoman.

And the new rules also bar utilities from offering special programs as incentives for cities not to launch such an agency.

These new guidelines come as PG&E has spent about $28.5 million on a June ballot initiative, Proposition 16. The initiative would require two-thirds of voters to give their OK before local governments can use taxpayer funds to create or expand publicly owned utilities.

``Under current law our customers are not guaranteed a vote when local governments want to spend public money to enter the electricity business,'' Romans said. ``We think they should have a voice in this very important decision.''

Public power advocates say the initiative is merely an attempt by PG&E to protect its business interests from competition.

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