On February 26, RCRC submitted Reply Comments to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) pushing back against proposals by the CPUC and large investor-owned utilities (IOUs) seeking to expand preemption of local governments.   

In 2023, the CPUC opened a new proceeding to update General Order 131-D (GO 131-D), which was last amended in 1995. GO 131-D establishes processes for Commission review of utility transmission and distribution projects and preempts local governments from “regulating electric power line projects, distribution lines, substations, or electric facilities constructed by public utilities subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction.” 

Among other things, the Commission solicited stakeholder comments about whether it should: 1) Require any CPUC permits for utility battery storage projects under 50MW; and, 2) Clarify that GO 131-D also preempts local regulation of battery storage projects constructed by a public utility.  The IOUs argued that battery energy storage facilities are no different than substations and should not require any type of permit for projects under 50MW (San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) suggested a 100MW threshold for CPUC approval).  RCRC expressed support for increased deployment of battery storage, but strongly pushed back against local preemption, pointing out the unique risks these facilities can pose and the need to ensure that local safety concerns are properly addressed. 

The IOUs also urged the Commission to specifically preempt local regulatory authority over utility vegetation management projects.  RCRC opposed this proposal as being overbroad and creating serious public safety risks for utility customers and rural residents.  The IOU proposal was reportedly aimed at clarifying that local tree removal ordinances are preempted by GO 131-D; however, the remedy suggested was much more far reaching and could be construed to diminish utility responsibility for management and removal of felled wood and slash upon completion of vegetation management projects.  RCRC pointed out that the Board of Forestry is contemplating related regulatory changes and suggested that the Commission convene multi-agency, multi-stakeholder workshops to discuss, evaluate, and establish best management practices for utility vegetation management operations. 

SDG&E and SoCal Edison (SCE) also urged the Commission to preempt local permitting of utility communications facilities, noting local concerns about aesthetic impacts and tower height.  RCRC pointed out that locals retain police powers to regulate similar aspects for non-IOU communications infrastructure and that this will be a far more complex and contentious issue than initially appeared to be the case. 

Finally, RCRC pushed back against Commission and utility suggestions that all disputes regarding utility operation and maintenance (and vegetation management projects) be resolved through the CPUC’s complaint process.  The CPUC complaint process often results in a situation where petitions are rejected by the CPUC for requesting relief outside their jurisdiction while nearly identical lawsuits filed in local courts are rejected on the grounds that the CPUC has exclusive jurisdiction over the matter and so issues must be resolved by filing a complaint at the CPUC. 

RCRC’s Reply Comments are available here.  For more information, contact John Kennedy or Leigh Kammerich.