Who sets utility rates in each state? Who approves – or disapproves – billions of dollars in utility infrastructure investment year in and year out? Who determines whether utilities are meeting their energy efficiency mandates? Who clears a path for advanced energy technologies and services to help consumers get secure, clean, affordable energy – or keeps barriers in the way?
The answer to all these questions: Public Utility Commissions.
Every state has a PUC or other official entity with a similar name (Public Service Commissions, Department of Public Utilities, etc.), which has broad regulatory authority over the nation’s investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities that have exclusive franchises to serve customers within that state. Depending on the state, PUCs may oversee the siting of electric generation facilities and enabling infrastructure, issue rules and regulations needed to implement critical legislation on renewable portfolio standards and energy efficiency mandates, and conduct adjudicatory proceedings to set rate increases, to highlight just a few of their responsibilities.
The structure and authority of PUCs vary widely, which poses a challenge to advanced energy companies and other stakeholders who operate across state lines. Most consist of three to seven commissioners, typically appointed by governors to terms of varying length, though some commissions have elected commissioners. There are nearly 200 PUC commissioners nationwide, but the lineup is constantly changing. With turnover of roughly 25 percent a year, there have been 20 new commissioners seated so far in 2013.
Advanced Energy Economy Institute’s Public Utility Commission Portal, launched today, is a unique resource that provides information on PUC commissioners as well as other players in state energy policy, such as energy office directors and the leaders of relevant legislative committees. It also houses interactive graphics of current energy system data and a tool for comparing up to four states side-by-side.
As our growth as a nation continues to be impacted by our energy choices, we need to know who is responsible for setting energy policies that impact our daily lives. By knowing more about PUCs, we can help make our energy system more affordable, clean and secure state by state.