PUC choice draws fire

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Critics Condemn Davis’ Appointment of Energy Insider

San Jose Mercury News


Gov. Gray Davis turned to an energy industry insider Tuesday to fill a vacancy on the state Public Utilities Commission, angering top consumer groups who accused the governor of “making the fox the head of the henhouse.”

Michael R. Peevey, former president of Edison International and Southern California Edison, will immediately replace Commissioner Richard Bilas, who resigned last week to care for his ailing wife.

Among other things, Peevey will help regulate the very industry he has worked in for years, which set off alarms among consumer groups.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable. It’s like appointing Ken Lay or something,” said Michael Florio, attorney for the Utility Reform Network, referring to the former chairman and CEO of Enron.

But Davis spokesman Steven Maviglio defended the appointment, saying the governor has already made two pro-consumer appointments to the commission, current President Loretta Lynch and former San Francisco public defender Jeff Brown.

“Jeff Brown has been very fair,” Maviglio said. “And it’s very helpful to appoint someone who understands the industry.”

Peevey, 64 and a Democrat, has had a varied career, working in labor, academia, public affairs and big business. From 1990 to 1993, he was president of Edison International and Southern California Edison.

In the 1990s, he ran New Energy, which helped companies buy inexpensive power. Since 1999, he has run TruePricing, a software start-up that helps companies manage their energy costs.

The governor’s office said Peevey will resign from any position and divest himself of any holdings that might constitute a conflict of interest.

Peevey said he accepted the appointment because he wanted to “give back” to society and serve the public “and here’s an area I know something about.”

Peevey said he hoped consumer groups and other critics “would judge me by what I do and not with preconceived notions.” Among other things, he said, he hoped to promote the use of alternative energy, such as solar and wind power.

Peevey, whose wife is Democratic Assemblywoman Carol Liu of Pasadena, was a volunteer adviser to the Davis administration for two months during the height of the state’s energy crisis last year.

PUC commissioners make $114,191.04 a year.

One consumer advocate said he was disappointed but not surprised by the appointment. “It’s not that we didn’t expect this, but the audacity of the governor to appoint a utility regulator with such ties is amazing,” said Doug Heller of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

But Tom Graff of Environmental Defense California, who first jousted with Peevey over nuclear power issues in 1976, said critics should not assume the worst.

“I think he might conceivably surprise people,” Graff said. “I think there’s reason for concern and reason to think that he’s at the end of his career and not beholden to anyone.”

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Contact Michael Bazeley at [email protected] or (415) 434-1018.

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