An Overview of the California Energy Commission
California is the world's fifth largest consumer of energy and ranks second in gasoline consumption only behind the whole United States. Today, California is a world leader in electricity created by renewable energy resources and has been at the forefront in energy efficiency. The renewable energy industry can be credited with providing 30,000 jobs and generating $2 billion in tax revenues for the state. Directing how such a nation-state uses its energy has been the purpose of the California Energy Commission for more than a quarter of a century.
The Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission (the formal name for the Energy Commission) was established by the Legislature in 1974 to address the energy challenges facing the state. Created by the Warren-Alquist State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Act (normally called the Warren-Alquist Act and which was signed into law by then-Governor Ronald Reagan), the Energy Commission is the state's principal energy policy and planning organization. Since 1974, successive administrations with bipartisan legislative support have enacted more than 100 separate laws to assist the Commission in implementing state energy policy.
The Governor appoints the five members of the Commission to staggered five-year terms and selects a chair and vice chair from among the members every two years. The appointments require Senate approval. By law, one commission member must be selected from the public at large. The remaining commissioners represent the fields of engineering / physical science, economics, environmental protection, and law.
The Commission nominates and the Governor also appoints a Public Adviser, for a term of three years, who is responsible for ensuring that the public and other interested parties are adequately represented at all Commission proceedings. The Public Adviser's accessibility affords the residents of California a unique opportunity to be a part of energy decision-making which may affect their lives.
Organization and Responsibilities
The Commission has five major areas of responsibility carried out by five divisions & and administrative arm. The divisions are:
- Administrative and Financial Services Division
- Electricity Supply Analysis Division
- Efficiency Division
- Renewable Energy Division
- Siting, Transmission and Environmental Protection Division
- Energy Research and Development Division
- Fuels and Transportation Division
The divisions are responsible for implementing the Energy Commission's Mission in five basic areas:
- Forecasting future statewide electricity needs and keeping historical data on energy
- Licensing power plants to meet those needs
- Promoting energy efficiency and conservation
- Developing renewable energy resources and alternative energy technologies
- Planning for and directing state response to energy emergencies
The Commission's Executive Office provides overall policy and management direction to the staff and management support to the Commissioners.
The Chief Counsel's Office houses the Commission's legal staff. Staff attorneys represent the Commission in administrative hearings before the California Public Utilities Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, at state and federal court proceedings, and at internal proceedings such as power plant siting cases. Hearing advisers serve as administrative law judges before the Commission on power plant siting/licensing cases.
The Commission forecasts future energy trends through various reports. Publications are available through the Commission's Publications Unit and beginning in 1996, most all reports are available in electronic format (Acrobat PDF files) on the Commission's website.
The Commission receives its funding from an electricity consumption surcharge collected by the electric utilities through customers' bills and then transferred to the state treasury. As of November 8, 2010, this is set at two-and-nine-tenths of one mil ($0.00029) per kilowatt/hour (kWh) of electricity consumed by all electrical customers. If an average residential customer uses 600 kWh of electricity per month, they would pay 17.4 cents per month toward Energy Commission operations. Federal money for specific energy efficiency programs supplements the Commission budget.
The Energy Commission also manages the Public Goods surcharge funds used for energy research and development (R&D) and renewable energy programs. These funds are collected from customers of the investor-owned utilities.