It’s been nearly two decades since California first ordered utilities to enter into long-term contracts for renewable contracts and simultaneously cloaked the terms of those agreements in secrecy for up to a decade. That’s despite the fact that ratepayers pay for these agreements.
The California Public Utilities Commission on Nov.18 voted to expose the contracts to the light of day sooner.
The goal of the decision is to “grant maximum transparency for renewable contracts as long as disclosure won’t adversely affect the market and raise costs for ratepayers,” said Commissioner Cliff Rechtschaffen, the presiding member. The decision addresses deals made pursuant to the Renewable Portfolio Standard.
Proposed contract terms between a seller and an investor-owned utility are only shown to a select group of stakeholders on the CPUC’s RPS Procurement Committee who sign off on the agreements. The secrecy is based on claims that publicly exposing the terms too early is needed to keep a lid on the price tags to avoid generators taking advantage of the limited market. There have been strong objections on grounds there is a constitutional right to access most government information and the secrecy violates the public record acts.
Back in 2006, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric received fewer than 90 bids for RPS solicitations. But five years later, the trio received more than 1,000 from about 260 sellers representing 91,000 megawatts of proposed RPS-eligible resources. Between 2007 and 2019, that surge in viable projects led to an average decline in costs of 13% per year.
Under the new decision, RPS procurement price and contract terms will be public 30 days after projects start operating or 18 months after Commission approval, whichever comes first.
The decision directs contract transparency at three years, rather than the current four, for energy and capacity forecast data used in RPS compliance and procurement–including the amount of renewables still needed to meet the state mandate.
The regulators also agreed to speed up the release of information on unsuccessful bids, but only in aggregate. Aggregated bid data will be publicly accessible after the CPUC approves a final contract if at least three bidders were involved, the decision states. Actual individual bids will become public a year after the final contract is submitted to the Commission.
In other news, the CPUC voted to allow the IOUs to remain administrators of the Electric Program Investment Charge Program, along with the California Energy Commission. But the utilities are required to improve information sharing and stakeholder engagement, integration with the CEC and CPUC, and transparency of the optimization of their clean energy research and development portfolios.
The CPUC’s Office of Public Advocates pushed unsuccessfully to remove the utilities as administrators.
The decision also okayed investment budgets of $18.4 million for PG&E, $15.1 million for SCE, and $3.2 million for SDG&E.
Also approved by the Commission this week was a fourth Renewable Energy Network in California to advance energy efficiency. These networks, according to Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma, help fill gaps in energy efficiency programs, including in hard-to-reach areas.
A new Inland Regional Energy Network covers Riverside and San Bernardino counties, where there are many disadvantaged communities. An initial budget of $65 million for years 2022-27 aims to improve energy efficiency programs in the public sector, workforce training and education, and standards.