Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Unintended consequences - right after worldwide terror attacks, let's decrease power plant security!


The California Public Utilities Commission is a regulatory agency. As is the case with all regulatory agencies, the people who have the greatest financial stake in the agency's activities are the people who are being regulated - in this case, the public utilities. There have been claims of corruption, including allegations that "PUC officials, including the former president and executive director, had overly cozy relations with executives at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and other regulated power companies."

The CPUC itself has decided that it needs legal representation. But this causes an issue:

Spokeswoman Terrie Prosper ... said, "our in-house lawyers are not criminal attorneys."

Additionally, in this case, the PUC cannot rely on its regular legal representative, state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, because Harris has launched her own probe into the PUC, Prosper said.

So the CPUC hired outside attorneys - which didn't please the legislature.

“Is the commission too big to succeed?” committee staff wrote in the hearing agenda. “Change is very necessary at the CPUC.” Among their recommendations are a $5 million reduction to the PUC’s budget and requiring legislative approval if the commission directs any ratepayer funds toward outside programs.

The $5 million budget cut was adopted, and legislators presumably congratulated themselves on a job well done. "We showed them!" they chortled to themselves.

So the time came to cut the budget, which was cut in several areas. One in particular:

Last week, commission Executive Director Timothy Sullivan told the agency’s five-member governing panel that he would slash $350,000 needed to implement the security plan as part of the $5 million in cuts that the Legislature ordered.

Um, what security plan?

[The plan], proposed by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, ordered the state’s power providers to draw up security plans to harden the electrical grid against saboteurs. The law was prompted largely by an April 2013 incident in which gunfire knocked out 17 transformers and inflicted $15.4 million in damage to PG&E’s Metcalf substation near San Jose.

Although the FBI said the attack was not the work of terrorists, it raised concern among some experts that it exposed vulnerabilities in the power grid.

There was a second security breach at Metcalf in August 2014, just days before the Legislature approved the law that took effect this year. In that attack, burglars cut through a fence and stole construction equipment. PG&E officials did not notice the breach for hours, prompting the utilities commission to fine the company $50,000 for failing to carry out promised security upgrades.

Now this specific cut probably wasn't decided last week - it takes an agency weeks or months to do anything - but unfortunately it was announced last week - right after ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/the fanatical boobyheads successfully attacked people, buildings, and planes in multiple countries.

Talk about bad timing.
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