by Stephen Lacey
March 01, 2017

As if California's electric grid isn't already changing fast enough, the state's leading regulator says it's probably time to change even faster. 

In an interview on this week's Interchange podcast, Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said that he believes the state should consider liberalizing its retail electricity market in order to broaden customer choice. 

California electricity consumers are already facing more options than ever before as rooftop solar, community choice aggregation, community solar and demand response offerings spread. But the system is balkanized. Why not develop a cohesive market structure allowing consumers to more easily choose their energy retailer?

"The electric system is becoming increasingly variable. Both power and demand are no longer static," said Picker, speaking on the podcast. "This gives people an enormous flexibility across a range of choices. Since we see this happening, the question is are there advantages to people to open it up to further choice and more third parties selling different kinds of convergent products?"

Picker has not developed a formal plan, or even a rough proposal. He is simply trying to start a conversation. This spring, the commission will hold a workshop about retail choice with utilities, community choice aggregators, third-party energy providers and consumer choice advocates. One of the themes, according to a draft agenda: "Towards a unified theory of customer choice."

Picker expects the state's utilities to have concerns. But he's eager to hear their proposals: "I think they see the same thing I'm seeing, and they know something has to happen."

So what would be the consequences of liberalizing California's retail electricity market? And what can California learn from the 14 other states that have opened up retail choice?

Listen to the conversation below.

Wait! While listening, make sure to sign up for GTM's event, California's Distributed Energy Future on March 8-9 in San Francisco. Commissioner Picker will be there to elaborate more on retail choice. We'll also dig deeper into how California's grid rules and distributed energy business models are shaping up. And guess what? Interchange listeners get a 15 percent discount. Just use the promo code INTERCHANGE when checking out.

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