California PUC Commissioner Mark Ferron’s Solar Energy Legacy

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Last week, California PUC Commissioner Mark Ferron resigned his post due to an ongoing and honorable battle with cancer. He will now focus on his family and his health. In a candid report during his final meeting, Commissioner Ferron not only discussed his illness and treatment, but also offered remarkable statements concerning the future of solar net metering and self-generation in California and across the country. A few particularly noteworthy excerpts:

We are fortunate to have utilities in California that are orders of magnitude more enlightened than their brethren in the coal-loving states, although I suspect that they would still dearly like to strangle rooftop solar if they could. Modern utilities are subject to a rapidly evolving business environment, and I wonder whether some top managers at our utilities have the ability or the will to understand and control the far-flung and complex organizations they oversee. And I am very worried about our utilities’ commitment to their side of the regulatory compact. We at the Commission need to watch our utilities’ management and their legal and compliance advisors very, very carefully: it is clear to me that the legalistic, confrontational approach to regulation is alive and well. Their strategy is often: “we will give the Commission only what they explicitly order us to give them”. This is cat and mouse, not partnership, so we have to be one smart and aggressive cat.”

“Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, with the passage of AB327, the thorny issue of Net Energy Metering and rate design has been given over to the CPUC. But recognize that this is a poisoned chalice: the Commission will come under intense pressure to use this authority to protect the interest of the utilities over those of consumers and potential self-generators, all in the name of addressing exaggerated concerns about grid stability, cost and fairness. You – my fellow Commissioners -all must be bold and forthright in defending and strengthening our state’s commitment to clean and distributed energy generation.”

“We also have a Legislature that by many measures is very inexperienced, and yet considers itself expert in energy policy matters. Many of the more influential members and veteran staffers seem to display an open, almost knee-jerk hostility toward the CPUC. It’s as if some Legislators (or their staff) think that their reputations will be enhanced by slapping down this Commission’s policy initiatives, rather than working on writing and passing legislation that we can quickly and effectively implement.”

Throughout his career, Commissioner Ferron dedicated himself to serving in the best interests of ratepayers. For example, as reported by East County Magazine, he “authored a CPUC decision to deny SDG&E’s request to charge ratepayers for liability costs of wildfires caused by SDG&E lines or equipment.”

The words in his final report are worth more than one read. They capture his commitment to California ratepayers, smart policy, and the state’s clean energy future.

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