California has many powerful state agencies that impact the lives of millions. One of the most powerful, but perhaps less known or understood, is the California Public Utilities Commission.
The CPUC was created in 1911 after a constitutional amendment was approved by voters to reorganize the Railroad Commission, which was established decades earlier to regulate the state’s powerful railroad industry. In 1912, the Legislature passed the Public Utilities Act, expanding Railroad Commission authority to regulate utilities such as gas, electric and telephone companies. In 1946, voters approved renaming the Railroad Commission the California Public Utilities Commission.
The CPUC has sole authority to establish rates charged by investor-owned utilities under its authority through its “revenue requirement,” based on the costs of maintaining, operating and financing utility operations. This requirement is the basis for determining rates paid by customers. CPUC responsibility extends beyond utility rates. For example, the Safety and Enforcement Division oversees safety requirements for rail crossings, private carriers including charter bus lines, limousines, and companies like Uber and Lyft.
The CPUC’s five commissioners, who must be approved by the Senate, are appointed by the Governor to staggered six-year terms. Currently, three of the five commissioners were appointed by Governor Brown, and the remaining two, including President Marybel Batjer, were appointed by Governor Newsom.
CPUC authority does not extend to government-run utilities and common carriers. Many transit agencies, such as the North County Transit District or the Riverside Transit Agency are not regulated by the CPUC, though they must follow certain CPUC regulations.
The CPUC also has authority over many state programs and initiatives including the California Solar Initiative, greenhouse gas emission standards, zero net energy goals for new construction, and many more.
If you have questions or concerns about utility-related issues, visit the CPUC’s website at: www.cpuc.ca.gov/