No mission statement could so clearly spell out the goals and objectives of utility regulatory commissioners as their actions this week at their annual conference held in San Francisco.
The National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissioners — NARUC — is the professional organization for utility regulatory commissioners.[i] Anyone interested in their goals and objectives just has to read the conference agenda:
Look through the workshops, presenters, and registered attendees.
Notice the lack of consumer groups or representatives presenting to commissioners or even in attendance. How many in the public even knew about this conference?
The seminars and panel discussions are led by PUC commissioners and industry representatives.
Look at all the issues impacting the public that have no one presenting the public’s points of view and priorities.
Don’t be misled by Patty Durand and her Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative. This group should be named Smart Grid Industry Partners Alliance, but that would be truth in advertising.[iii]
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) seems like it would be a public advocate, but it is actually involved in the Smart Grid and has become an industry partner, getting paid for participation in PUC proceedings. TURN is a sometimes public advocate group that makes millions from ratepayers through PUC proceedings.
Is this agenda unusual? Read last year’s conference or the agendas of meetings held during the year.
Here is the agenda for the 2013 conference http://annual.narucmeetings.org/2013/program.cfm
Here is the agenda for the 2012 Western PSC conference – a subset of NARUC
The presenters are industry representatives and commissioners in 95% of the cases.
So, whose voice gets heard? Not the public. When adopting policy initiatives, commissioners get their information almost exclusively from industry and its affiliated cheerleaders.
Page 48 of the agenda lists some of the upcoming meetings of these commissioners. These meetings happen throughout the year.
CPUC Chairman Michael Peevey, who is on the NARUC board, will be attending and presenting, as well as the other CPUC commissioners. A long list of CPUC staff will be present. Utility commissioners and staff from across the United States are flying in for this yearly event. Over 1300 people registered as of November 16.
Sponsorship for the conference is mainly by industry organizations and businesses, such as Qualcomm, Smart Meter manufacturers Itron and Landis & Gyr, America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), and the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Though AARP is a co-sponsor, only three AARP officials are attending and one no-name registrant. AARP is not involved with any workshops. Why are they co-sponsoring this utility/regulatory commission love fest?
The conference theme is “Equipped to Lead: 125 years of effective regulation.”
“Effective regulation” for whom?
The commissioners will hold meetings (some of which are invitation only though these are public officials), elect new executive board officers, and hear from former Chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, now the President and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association – a good example of the industry/public agency revolving door.
They will learn on Wednesday about dealing with scrutiny from the public and heightened visibility during “high interest” topics, as well as “well-funded” public advocacy efforts and the media attention.
“…Is your agency prepared for the spotlight? In this session, a diverse panel of commissioners will discuss how they are dealing with this new paradigm. Attendees will learn about ways to communicate with the public and the press…”[iv]
“Ways to communicate with the public”? “New paradigm”? “Well-funded”?
The only possible bright spot will be the concurrent sessions of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates. However, their workshop on broadband has no one presenting on the RF health and environmental issues. That is a serious omission from an organization that claims to represent the public interest. NASUCA members are the offices in many states with the specific purpose of representing the public in proceedings, to be “ratepayer advocates”. In some states, their voice is louder than in others, and their willingness to take on issues differs. In California, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates intervenes and investigates, but has no legal power to dictate to the CPUC. It has saved Californians billions of dollars in proposed rate increases.
The Florida Public Service Commission was described in 2010 by former Chair Nancy Argenziano as a “fetid pit”.[v] Florida wants to retain a seat on the NARUC executive board, with Julie Brown nominated for President to replace Lisa Polak Edgar who is outgoing First Vice President. Integrity Florida issued “Power Play” in March, a report on the political corruption involving utilities in Florida.[vi] Their findings included revolving door jobs, cronyism, and anti-consumer regulations. In July, PSC Chair Ronald Brisé declined to hold a public hearing over gutting energy conservation goals for utility companies. [vii]
The stakes are high. For the utilities, there’s the prospect of big, guaranteed returns on investments in new plants. Those returns would come from the pockets of utility customers. They, according to economist Shawn LeMond, “are going to get hosed.”
The utilities said it’s cheaper for them now to produce a kilowatt of electricity than to save it…”People should be up in arms,” (The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s Susan) Glickman said, “that we’re ending energy-efficiency programs while we’re approving new power plants.”[viii]
PSC staff supports the utility companies, and commissioners are expected to “rubberstamp” the proposal when they return from San Francisco. Does Florida’s dominant representation on the board signal a “business as usual/all clear” for the industry?
NARUC members will also vote on resolutions.
These policy statements will then become the position of the regulatory commissions in the United States.
One of these resolutions to the EPA asserts that nuclear power is an important part of the “clean” energy mix. With ongoing Fukushima radiation hammering the nation, with nuclear waste unresolved, with more and more nuclear industry “facts” questioned and public safety issues and emergencies coming to light, this is irresponsible. However, it does protect the nuclear industry profits and market share. How many Americans know that their commissioners will be voting to endorse nuclear energy?
Here’s an example from 2013[ix], asking the EPA to be “flexible” on power plant emissions regulations. NARUC resolved that “(EPA) guidelines…shall not intrude on the States’ jurisdiction over decisions regarding integrated resource planning and/or resource adequacy or otherwise mandate specific modifications to the mix of fuels and resources in existing and future State generation portfolios” — in other words, let the state PUCs determine what’s working regardless of the impacts.
These policy statements do not represent many Americans. Commissioners did not get input from the public to advocate these positions to the federal government.
In a resolution adopted last year, NARUC said
- The States are in a unique position to provide on-the-ground expertise and experience to resolve customer complaints and consumer issues;
- The States should continue to serve as fact finders and, where appropriate under State statutes, adjudicators of issues affecting communications.
All very nicely said. However, the reality is far different. These NARUC words merely put lipstick, or rather a velvet glove, on an iron determination to retain power and control decisions at the state level. This is about retaining a lucrative partnership with industry. It has nothing to do with the public.
These commissioners will wine, dine, and discuss with industry reps this week. The industry officials who interact with these officials have titles such as Manager or Vice President for External Affairs, Regulatory Affairs, Legislative Affairs, State Government Affairs, Federal Affairs, and Industry/State Affairs. Lots of affairs indeed.
Commissioners inform themselves by consulting with the industry. They solicit almost no input from the public. It is simply not a priority.
These are not trivial issues.
The reliability and cost of utility service is at stake. For some, the cost is already too high, and people live without the basic necessity of electricity to their homes.
Public safety is at stake. Ask San Bruno, California how secure they feel about CPUC oversight or the people Erin Brockovich represented in Hinkley, California. Nuclear reactors built on earthquake faults or with serious design flaws across the country that are already leaking and causing birth defects – the potential for disaster created by these industry-facing commissioners and their staff is enormous.
The Florida report “Power Play” could have been written about NARUC as a whole.
NARUC is a “members only” club, and the public is not invited.
The public must take action.
[iv] 10:35 AM Are You Ready for Your Close-up?
The Clean Power Plan. Pipeline Safety. Ride-sharing services. Infrastructure Replacement. The issues pending before State utility commissions are hotter than ever before, and so is the spotlight. With States setting the pace on some of the most signifi cant challenges in the country, the focus on commission business is growing. National, well-funded stakeholder groups are intervening in State proceedings which, in turns, brings heightened media attention. Is your agency prepared for the spotlight? In this session, a diverse panel of commissioners will discuss how they are dealing with this new paradigm. Attendees will learn about ways to communicate with the public and the press, along with other kinds of challenges that may arise from this heightened attention. Are you ready for your close-up?
Buying in: How money controls Tallahassee; Watchdog report says power companies wield too much influence in Florida Legislature
Power Play: Political Influence of Florida’s Top Energy Corporations