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The threat to Californians from wildfires is clear, present, and obvious. As I sit here, the Chaparral Fire burns in the distance, less than 50 miles from my house.

As the state grapples with this ongoing and future threat, it is imperative that we move beyond just reacting to wildfires toward mitigating wildfire risk with a proactive strategy that deploys resources and funds smartly and strategically to reduce the most amount of risk possible for the money spent. This is not yet happening.

For their part, electric utilities have rightly turned their focus to investments intended to reduce the risk…


Battery storage is often hailed as the messiah of the electric grid, or slightly less dramatically, bacon, because adding it “makes everything better.” Supporters tout the technologies’ ability to provide capacity when we need it, reduce GHG emissions, and limit solar curtailment. With these benefits in mind, back in 2013 California’s chief utility regulator took the unprecedented step of requiring utilities to procure 1.3 Gigawatts (GW)of storage (that’s a lot), which has now been accomplished, while the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) has spent hundreds of millions of ratepayer money (also a lot) to subsidize battery installations (a fraction of…


Imagine that instead of the wave of jealousy you feel when you see your neighbor driving that newly minted Tesla (just me?), a feeling of financial well-being set in? With the way utility accounting works, it is possible for electric rates to actually go down with large-scale EV adoption—but only if the utilities don’t get in our way.

Let me explain. New load from EVs can lower all customers’ rates because the cost to serve electricity to the vehicle, the marginal cost in economic terms, is lower than the retail rate paid to charge — note this is generally true…


Last year I wrote a blog about the California “duck curve,” our state animal to think or freak out about solar production and curtailment issues. I noted that while hyperventilation is not yet necessary, “as renewables hit higher and higher penetrations of our electricity mix, there are legitimate renewable integration issues for the state to address.”

Updating for 2018 data shows not much has changed.

Annual Curtailment as a Percentage of Production

In January 2017, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) submitted an Application to the California Public Utilities Commission to collect over $700 million for a program to install and own level 2 residential charging stations. In what would have been an unprecedented encroachment onto residential property, the utility proposed to own wires, panels, and charging stations in customer’s garages. Importantly, this ownership treatment would provide profits to utility shareholders for decades to come, based on accounting rules for utility-owned assets. …


Behavioral economics provides a scientific foundation for why humans behave the way we do, particularly when we’re stupid (OK, irrational), through “a framework to understand when and how people make errors.” There are lots of learnings from this field for those of us who work in utility regulation, some of which are discussed here. But the one that has popped in my mind continually since entering this field is “anchor bias.”

Most utility requests for additional funding follow the same pattern — the utility asks the regulator for $X million (or billion) to build x widgets (say, EV charging stations…


The narrative about California’s renewable energy efforts is often one part doom, two parts gloom. In a story on KQED I heard recently, California “wastes” enough solar energy every year to power San Francisco for a day (or something terrible-sounding like that). Other states point to California as a warning sign of the dangers of solar power, as an excuse to continue investing in increasingly uneconomic and still dirty coal and gas, or just to partake in good ol’ fashioned renewables bashing.

This misses the forest for the trees. California has increasingly shifted away from fossil fuels to renewables, primarily…


Both sides of the divide agree — income inequality in the U.S. is out of control and something needs to be done about it. This was the key issue that propelled the popular campaign of Bernie Sanders, and candidates as diverse as Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton believe it’s a major problem. Boldly, Barack Obama stated that he believes income inequality is “the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American.” When unveiling the tax “reform” plan Trump described it as a way to “cut taxes for the middle class.”

As top earners garner…


By Marcel Hawiger and Eric Borden

Over 800,000 households in California were shutoff from electric service in 2015 because they could not pay their utility bill. California residential electric rates are among the highest in the nation, exceeded only by a handful of states in the Northeast and Hawaii. Yet when TURN raises the issue of high electric costs with the utilities and regulators who are supposed to ensure “affordable” electric service, the response is a calm assurance that there is little to worry about, because monthly utility bills in California are lower than or equal to the national average…


As distributed energy resources (DER’s), particularly solar PV and battery storage, come down in cost and increase in penetration, they are increasingly the topic of intense conversation, debate, and excitement. One area of interest is the idea that utilities should actively procure DER’s and/or DER services to defer or avoid traditional utility spending. The thinking goes that if these DER’s are less costly than what the utility would have spent on a particular project, ratepayers, society, and DER’s win. This relatively simple idea, however, is more complicated than presented given the significant uncertainty in what project the utility would have…

bordene

Clean energy and general policy enthusiast. All views are my own.

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