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Newsom announces nominee for California utility regulator

January 23, 2019
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FILE - This March 21, 2018 file photo shows California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in Sacramento, Calif., who is among a number of nominees to energy-related posts announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. Nominees include the former state insurance commissioner Jones who is one of three people named to a five-member panel tasked with studying how to distribute costs related to wildfires. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday nominated a new commissioner to California’s utility regulator and three nominees for a panel tasked with studying how the state can fairly distribute costs related to destructive wildfires.

Newsom named Genevieve Shiroma to the Public Utilities Commission, a five-member body that regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, water, telecommunications and other services and utilities. That includes Pacific Gas and Electric, which is planning to file for bankruptcy and facing intense scrutiny for its role in recent deadly wildfires and a 2010 gas pipeline explosion.

Shiroma, 64, is a longtime member of the state’s Agriculture Labor Relations Board and previously worked in air quality for the California Air Resources Board. She’s a former ward director of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a publicly-owned electric utility that supplies the capital region.

Her appointment requires confirmation from the state Senate, and she would make $153,000.

The PUC sets rates for utilities and can issue fines when utilities don’t comply with state regulations. It approves additional costs utilities want to pass on to ratepayers for activities such as burying electric lines, sets safety requirements for public utilities and requires utilities to submit wildfire mitigation plans. If PG&E’s bankruptcy goes through, the PUC will determine how costs associated with it are passed onto ratepayers.

Shiroma is Newsom’s first appointee to the commission; the other four appointees were named by former Gov. Jerry Brown.

Newsom, a Democrat, also appointed three members to the Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery, three people to the California Independent System Operator and one person to the California Energy Commission. The independent system operator, California ISO, oversees the state’s power grid. The ISO and energy commission appointees require Senate confirmation; the wildfire commission appointees do not.

The wildfire commission was created last year by lawmakers in response to destructive 2017 fires that resulted in billions of dollars in damages against PG&E, which said it couldn’t afford the payments. Lawmakers eventually passed a law allowing the utility to take out state-backed bonds for the 2017 fire damages and pass some of the costs onto ratepayers.

Newsom’s appointees are Dave Jones, the former state insurance commissioner; Michael Kahn, former chair of California ISO; and Carla Peterman, a former PUC member. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Tuesday appointed Pedro Nava, a former assemblyman and chairman of the Little Hoover Commission, a state oversight agency. Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins also gets to make an appointment.

The committee must hold public meetings to discuss costs associated with major wildfires and prepare a report by July 1 recommending changes to state law around how those costs are distributed.

All of Newsom’s appointees are Democrats.

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