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State public utility commission issues decision on undergrounding program with mixed outcome for cities

June 8, 2021
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a decision this week on its Rule 20 undergrounding program, which lays out guidelines and procedures for the ratepayer-funded undergrounding of overhead electric facilities.
 
CPUC issued Decision 21-06-013 on June 7 after considering revisions to their Rule 20 program over the past year. The decision reflected key recommendations by the League of California Cities, which were included in submitted comments outlining concerns with the CPUC’s proposed revisions. However, other important requests were rejected. 
 
Cal Cities advocated against the proposal to sunset the Rule 20A program so cities could continue to pursue ratepayer-funded undergrounding projects. Cal Cities also requested that cities be able to borrow, sell, or trade work credits. Additionally, Cal Cities asked for Rule 20A project eligibility to be expanded to promote wildfire safety and emergency-related undergrounding.
 
The CPUC decision includes some of Cal Cities’ requests, including the decision not to sunset the Rule 20A program and the implementation of safeguards that will ensure Investor Owned Utilities (IOU) comply with additional transparency and accountability measures. However, other Cal Cities’ recommendations were rejected.
 
The decision includes the following significant changes to the Rule 20 program that impact cities:
  • CPUC will cease allocating work credits to cities through the program after Dec 31, 2022.
  • CPUC prohibits utilities from authorizing cities to borrow, sell, or trade work credits from other jurisdictions, unless a county wants to redistribute its work credits to cities within its jurisdiction or neighboring cities want to pool credits for a common project.
Notably, the CPUC directed IOUs to work together with Cal Cities and other stakeholders on an updated Rule 20 Guidebook, which will detail the costs and responsibilities of each party at each stage of Rule 20 undergrounding projects, IOU contacts for projects, a timeline to anticipate annual reports, and links to the Rule 20 program webpages of the Commission and the IOUs. These transparency measures are intended to assist cities in understanding and utilizing the Rule 20 program.
 
The CPUC decided to defer consideration of several issues that are important to Cal Cities members to a “Phase 2” of the rulemaking proceeding, including: 
  1. Whether to add Rule 20A project eligibility criteria for wildfire safety and emergency-related undergrounding.
  2. Whether to modify the Rule 20A program to support projects in underserved and disadvantaged communities.
  3. Whether to take additional steps to support the completion of active Rule 20A projects.
Cal Cities will continue to advocate for the best interest of cities in this rulemaking and will be submitting comments on future phases of this rulemaking.


 
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