California Public Utilities Commission

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California Public Utilities Commission
Seal of the California Public Utilities Commission.png
Brownofficebuilding (1).jpg
Headquarters in San Francisco
Commission overview
Formed February 10, 1911 (1911-02-10)
Jurisdiction California
Headquarters 505 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, California
37°46′49″N 122°25′14″W / 37.78023°N 122.42046°W / 37.78023; -122.42046Coordinates: 37°46′49″N 122°25′14″W / 37.78023°N 122.42046°W / 37.78023; -122.42046
Annual budget $ 1.4 billion (2011)
Commission executives Michael Picker, Commissioner-President
Carla Peterman, Commissioner
Mike Florio, Commissioner
Catherine Sandoval, Commissioner
Liane Randolph, Commissioner
Tim Sullivan, Executive Director
Website Official website

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC or PUC) is a regulatory agency that regulates privately owned public utilities in the state of California, including electric power, telecommunications, natural gas and water companies. In addition, the CPUC regulates common carriers, including household goods movers, passenger transportation companies (like limousine services) and rail crossing safety.[1] The CPUC's headquarters are located in the Civic Center district of San Francisco, and the agency has field offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento.


On April 1, 1878, the California Office of the Commissioner of Transportation was created.[2] During the 19th century, public concerns over the unbridled power of the Southern Pacific Railroad grew to the point that a three-member Railroad Commission was established, primarily to approve transportation prices.[3] However, the Southern Pacific quickly dominated this commission to its advantage, and public outrage re-ignited. As experience with public regulation grew, other common utilities were brought under the oversight of the Railroad Commission.[4]

On March 3, 1879 the California Constitution was adopted by constitutional convention and was ratified by the electorate on May 7, 1879, and included provisions relating to Railroad Commissioners in article XII.[5] On April 15, 1880 the Board of Railroad Commissioners was created.[6] On March 20, 1909 the Railroad Commission of the State of California replaced these other entities.[7] On February 9, 1911 the California Legislature passed the Railroad Commission Act reorganizing the Railroad Commission.[8]

On March 24, 1911 the California Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment giving it constitutional status,[9] which was ratified by the electorate on October 10, 1911.[5] On June 16, 1945 a constitutional amendment was proposed by the legislature to rename the Railroad Commission as the California Public Utilities Commission,[10] which was ratified by the electorate on November 5, 1946.

As a result of the amendment, the Constitution of California declares that the Public Utilities Code is the highest law in the state, that the legislature has unlimited authority to regulate public utilities under the Public Utilities Code, and that its provisions override any conflicting provision of the State Constitution which deals with the subject of regulation of public utilities.[11]


Five commissioners each serve staggered six-year terms as the governing body of the agency. Commissioners are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the California State Senate. The CPUC meets publicly[12] to carry out the business of the agency, which may include the adoption of utility rate changes, rules on safety and service standards, implementation of conservation programs, investigation into unlawful or anticompetitive practices by regulated utilities and intervention into federal proceedings which affect California ratepayers.

As of January 2015, the current commissioners are:[13]

  • President Michael Picker, (appointed in 2014 by Jerry Brown)[14]
  • Mike Florio (term expires in 2017)
  • Catherine J.K. Sandoval (term expires in 2017)
  • Carla J. Peterman (term expires in 2019)
  • Liane M. Randolph (term expires in 2020)

Some regulatory laws are implemented by the California State Legislature through the passage of laws. These laws often reside in the California Public Utilities Code.[15] The CPUC Headquarters are in San Francisco with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento and the CPUC employs 1000 including judges, engineers, analysts, lawyers, auditors, and support.[16]

Energy and climate change[edit]

The CPUC regulates investor-owned electric and gas utilities within the state of California, including Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric. Among its stated goals for energy regulation are to establish service standards and safety rules, authorize utility rate changes, oversee markets to inhibit anti-competitive activity, prosecute unlawful utility marketing and billing activities, govern business relationships between utilities and their affiliates, resolve complaints by customers against utilities, implement energy efficiency and conservation programs and programs for the low-income and disabled, oversee the merger and restructure of utility corporations, and enforce the California Environmental Quality Act for utility construction.[17]

California Solar Initiative[edit]

The California Solar Initiative is a $2.9 billion incentive program created by the CPUC and the California Energy Commission in 2006. The goal of the initiative is to create 3,000 megawatts of new solar power generation in the state by 2017. The increased solar generation will erase the need for up to six new major power plants in California, according to the CPUC.[18]

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards[edit]

In January 2007, the CPUC adopted a greenhouse gas emissions standard that requires new long-term commitments for baseload generation to serve California consumers with power plants that have emissions no greater than a combined cycle gas turbine plant.[19] The CPUC has stated that the emissions standard is a vital step in addressing ongoing concerns with global warming.

Cap and trade[edit]

On February 8, 2008, CPUC President Michael Peevey issued a proposed decision concerning implementation of California’s greenhouse gas emissions legislation, AB 32. The decision recommends a cap and trade program for the electricity sector in California that would impose regulations on owners and operators of generation in California and out-of-state generators delivering electricity to the California electrical grid.[20]



The CPUC regulates intrastate telecommunications service and terms and conditions of wireless phone providers (but not entry or rates which are reserved to the Federal Communications Commission.) The CPUC has developed a consumer-oriented communications website.[21] The CPUC also reviews third-party-verification recordings to monitor for telephone slamming.

The Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 (DIVCA) made the CPUC responsible for video franchises. The DIVCA granted the CPUC limited authority to regulate video service providers via a statewide franchise scheme.[22] The CPUC is responsible for licensing video service providers, and enforcing certain anti discrimination and build out requirements imposed by the Act. Local franchise authorities will continue to regulate rights of way used by video providers, handle consumer complaints, and requirements as to public, educational, and government access (PEG) channels. Previously, licensing of franchises was handled by local authorities such as the Sacramento Metropolitan Cable Television Commission.

The CPUC also played a key role in the Governor's Broadband Task Force formed in 2006. The task force produced two reports making recommendations to the Governor on what could be done to enhance broadband in California, engaging in a broadband mapping project for California, and producing a broadband speed report. In response to the Task Force mapping project and report, the CPUC launched an innovative California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which is a two year, infrastructure grant program to bring broadband to unserved or underserved areas of California. The fund comes from a 0.25% telephone surcharge. Broadband providers may apply for 40% infrastructure grants to build broadband to unserved and underserved communities within a three year time frame, and must provide 60% matching funds.

Call recording[edit]

Further information: Recorder warning tone

The concept behind General Order 107-B is that telephone calls cannot be recorded in California unless all parties to the call know it is being recorded.

The Order states the specifics of what must be done in order to lawfully record telephone calls. Based on the 1983 version, one way to meet the requirements may be to give a verbal warning. This often occurs by the playing of a recording in an automatic call distribution queue: "Your call may be recorded or monitored for quality assurance purposes."

Another method allowed to warn all callers a call is being recorded is the presence of a recorder warning tone: a 1,440 Hz tone repeating every fifteen seconds. In the 1960s, radio stations with call-in programs used to employ a recorder warning tone. The law now exempts lines used for call-in to broadcasts or cablecasts since it is presumed a caller to a telecast is aware their call is subject to being transmitted or recorded and intends for this to happen.

The Order requires that telephone utilities disconnect telephone service for violations of this Order.


Transportation Network Companies[edit]

A transportation network company (TNC) is a company that uses an online-enabled platform to connect passengers with drivers using their personal, non-commercial, vehicles.[23] This can be considered a type of ridesharing. Examples include Lyft, Uber X, Sidecar, Wingz, Haxi and Summon.[24][25]

The definition of a TNC was created by the CPUC in 2013, as a result of a rulemaking process around new and previously unregulated forms of transportation. Prior to the definition, the CPUC had attempted to group TNC services in the same category as limousines.[26] Taxi industry groups opposed the creation of the new category, arguing that TNCs are taking away their business as illegal taxicab operations.[27]

The CPUC established regulations for TNC services at the same time as the definition. These included driver background checks, driver training, drug and alcohol policies, minimum insurance coverage of $1 million, and company licensing through the CPUC.[28]


  1. ^ CPUC About Us
  2. ^ Cal. Stats. 1877–78, Ch. 641
  3. ^
  4. ^ CPUC History
  5. ^ a b California Adjustment Co. v. Atchison, T. & S. F. RY. Co., 175 P.1d 682, 683 (1918)
  6. ^ Cal. Stats. 1880, Ch. 59
  7. ^ Cal. Stats. 1909, Ch. 312
  8. ^ Railroad Commission Act, Cal. Stats. 1911, Ch. 20
  9. ^ Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 6, Cal. Stats. 1911, Res. Ch. 53
  10. ^ Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 13, Cal. Stats. 1945, Res. Ch. 145
  11. ^ California Constitution, Article 12, "Public Utilities", Section 5, "The Legislature has plenary power, unlimited by the other provisions of this constitution but consistent with this article, to confer additional authority and jurisdiction upon the commission..."
  12. ^ CPUC meeting dates
  13. ^ CPUC Commissioners
  14. ^ Official CPUC Bio
  15. ^ California Public Utilities Code
  16. ^ Peevey, Michael. "Presentation to the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications". California Public Utilities Commission. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  17. ^ CPUC Mission
  18. ^ GoSolarCalifornia
  19. ^ CPUC news release
  20. ^ Energy Law Alert: California PUC Proposes Cap and Trade Program
  21. ^
  22. ^ Cal. Stats. 2006, Ch. 700
  24. ^ Geron, Tomio (9 Sep 2013). "California Becomes First State To Regulate Ridesharing Services Lyft, Sidecar, UberX". Forbes. Retrieved 23 Oct 2013. 
  25. ^ Yeung, Ken (19 Sep 2013). "California Becomes First State To Regulate Ridesharing Services Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, Wingz and InstantCab". TheNextWeb. Retrieved 19 Nov 2013. 
  26. ^ Ride-Sharing Startups Get California Cease-And-Desist Letters - Forbes
  27. ^ In California, They're Not Taxis, They're "Transportation Network Companies" - WNYC
  28. ^ California PUC Proposes Legalizing Ride-Sharing From Startups Lyft, SideCar, Uber - Forbes

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]