California repeatedly warned about spiking gas prices, fragile supply. But fixes never came
I was surprised last week that the California Public Utilities Commission didn’t issue a ruling on whether power generators were using a practice called underpricing to drive up the wholesale price of electricity.
But I shouldn’t have been. I already believed the practice was widespread enough that the California Public Utilities Commission — not to mention the California Legislature — should have acted to address it two years ago. I should have known, after seeing all the headlines and the television special, that the issue was a hot one in the halls of government.
“When you have news of this magnitude, it’s never a surprise to have a decision,” said Scott Reardon, executive director of the Utility Consumers’ Action Network. “It’s an indication that folks in the halls of power are paying attention to this, and that’s why it should have been resolved years ago.”
Reardon didn’t know which way the ruling would go, but he said he believes the practice is widespread enough to qualify as illegal. “If it was happening to people, it’s probably going to happen to someone else,” he said — especially in a state like California where utilities are regulated but power generators are not.
Even at the highest levels, it was unclear what the impact of the ruling would be. Gov. Jerry Brown, whose administration was in charge of the PUC, said he couldn’t speculate on what the decision would mean. He said the decision was still under review and that he expected it would come soon.
So did I. But there’s no such thing as too soon to act. When the decision was delayed last year, I figured there were two options: Move to the next phase of the process in the coming weeks, or ask for a rehearing now, in case the ruling was overturned. Either option would have taken the wind out of our sails in California’s power business.