Sandoval joins California Public Utilities Commission

Catherine J. K. Sandoval is used to breaking new ground. The East Los Angeles native was the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. After graduating from Yale, she was the first Latina from California to be selected for a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford. On Jan. 25, Gov. Jerry Brown ’59 appointed Sandoval to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), where she became the first Latina to serve at the Commission in its more than 100-year history.

Sandoval is an expert in telecommunications law and policy, one of the industries under her purview at the CPUC. The Commission regulates privately owned electric, natural gas, telecommunications, water, railroad, rail transit, and passenger transportation companies. Sandoval’s term runs for six years on the five-member Commission.

Spurring renewables

An associate professor at the SCU School of Law, Sandoval teaches telecommunications law, antitrust law, and contracts. She joins the CPUC at a time when the Commission itself is under heightened scrutiny. The docket is full. A bill signed by Gov. Brown in April directs the CPUC to ensure that California’s largest utilities draw one-third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

“Are these proposals well calculated to protect public safety?”

“The one and only directive the governor has given me is that the 33 percent renewable standard is a floor, not a ceiling,” Sandoval says. “As we look to investing in California’s infrastructure, we really have an opportunity here to think about how we create a sustainable future.”

A new contracts offer process launching this July should help spur stable investment in solar and wind energy. “We want to do whatever we can at the state levels to avoid creating boom and bust cycles, and create more stable markets,” Sandoval says. “Utilities will say, ‘Give us your offer for renewable power,’ and then they’ll pick the best projects.”

Lessons from San Bruno

No issue before the Commission is as fraught with controversy as its responsibility to maintain the safety of the state’s natural gas infrastructure in the wake of last year’s deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

“We need to do everything in our power to make sure that something like that never happens again,” Sandoval says. “I definitely am going to ask questions, for example, about where public safety is at stake: Are these proposals well calculated to protect public safety? I think that that is my duty in accordance with the law, which requires that utilities have to operate in a manner that is safe and provides reliable and affordable service.”

Bringing SCU to the CPUC

Sandoval is eager is bring her SCU experience to the Commission. “Part of my goal is to be able to bring the resources and perspective of academia into rule making,” she says. She wants to practice what she calls an evidence-based approach. Because leaning hard on the facts is the best way to make good decisions for the state’s future.

Sandoval is also ready to share SCU’s sustainability story. “The investment of the University in solar and wind is exactly what we want to be encouraging,” she says, for public institutions and private institutions alike. Justin Gerdes mag-bug

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