Newsom appoints Shiroma, an engineer and ALRB chair, to CPUC

by Steve Blum • ,

Shiroma

Genevieve Shiroma is the newest member of the California Public Utilities Commission. Appointed on Tuesday by California governor Gavin Newsom, Shiroma will take the seat vacated in December by Carla Peterman. At the same time, Peterman was appointed to a seat on the Commission on Catastrophic Wildfire Cost and Recovery – a non paid position that requires no senate confirmation. It was created as part of the wildfire liability package – senate bill 901 – passed by the legislature last year.

The job of CPUC commissioner, on the other hand, pays $154,000 a year and the California senate has to confirm the appointment. Shiroma will be able to take her seat immediately, however, and serve without confirmation for the rest of the year.

Shiroma has an engineering degree from U.C. Davis and is currently the chair of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. She’s served on the ALRB since 1999, following a 21-year career as an engineer and manager with the California Air Resources Board. She also spent 20 years as an elected director of the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, including a stint as board president. SMUD provides electric service in Sacramento County.

Her track record indicates a preference for publicly-owned utilities, like SMUD, over investor-owned ones, such as Pacific Gas and Electric. According to a 2006 story in Electric Utility Week, as quoted by the CalWatchdog website, Shiroma campaigned for an unsuccessful ballot measure that would have seen SMUD take over thousands of PG&E customers…

SMUD’s initiative on the…ballot would have allowed the muni to annex about 70,000 PG&E customers in Yolo County in Northern California. PG&E spent more than $10 million to defeat the annexation, while the pro-annexation campaign spent about $1 million.

Shiroma brings important experience to the CPUC, particularly as a senior manager at a state agency and as a longtime commissioner and chair of a major regulatory agency. Neither job directly involved public utilities, but her tenure on the SMUD board gives her extensive electric industry oversight experience. On paper, at least, her C.V. puts her ahead of other CPUC commissioners, whose backgrounds tend to be more political than administrative or technical, and whose resumes are very light in terms of practical industry experience or technical education. It’s possible to learn a lot very quickly while serving on the CPUC – as some commissioners have demonstrated – but it’s also nice that Shiroma is beginning well up that learning curve.

Current CPUC president Michael Picker has two years left to go on his term, but if he voluntarily follows his friend and patron Jerry Brown into retirement, Shiroma would be well-placed to take over, which might (or might not – I’m just speculating) be what Newsom had in mind.

On the downside, Shiroma’s appointment leaves the CPUC without a telecoms expert, or even someone who brought a modicum of telecoms experience to the job. That’s a minor gripe, though – there’s no question that the electric industry is the commission’s – and California’s – top utility regulatory problem this year, and probably for many years to come.