Utility Regulation in Utah
In Utah, three state entities play key roles in the utility regulatory process.
The Public Service Commission is an independent agency with the authority to set rates and tariffs for public utilities in Utah. The Commission evaluates utility resource plans, assesses the reliability and quality of utility service, responds to customer complaints and addresses other requests related to the public utilities it regulates. The Commission receives evidence from a variety of interested stakeholders and in some cases conducts hearings in making its rulings on these matters. The Commission also has authority to establish rules to enact the Utah laws related to its authority. Utah has three public service commissioners, each appointed by the Governor to a six-year term and one designated as Chairman. The Commission has a small expert, professional staff to advise the Commissioners on matters before them. The Commission also has the authority to assign investigative and analytical work to the Division of Public Utilities.
The Division of Public Utilities is a division of the Utah Department of Commerce. It presents expert analysis, audits regulated utilities, and conducts investigations into specific issues both as initiated by itself and as requested by the Commission. Utah law establishes the Division of Public Utilities to act in the public interest and make its recommendations considering certain specific factors (see Utah Code §54-4a-6). The Director of the Division of Public Utilities is appointed by the Executive Director of the Department of Commerce, who in turn is appointed by the Governor and serves on the cabinet. The Division of Public Utilities receives legal counsel from attorneys assigned from the Attorney General's office.
The Office of Consumer Services is established as the residential and small commercial advocate in public utility proceedings. The Director of the Office of Consumer Services is appointed by the Governor to a six-year term. The Office is also advised by a nine-member layperson Committee, the members of which are appointed by the Governor to four-year terms. The Committee also gives direction on the Policy Objectives of the Office. The Committee meets approximately five times per year. These meetings are all open to the public and often contain substantial background information on current regulatory proceedings as well as discussions of current and emerging issues in the energy and telecommunications industries.
By statute, the Office advocates positions before the Public Service Commission and in other forums that are advantageous to the customer classes it represents. The Office develops positions based on its established policy objectives, considering the range of well accepted and emerging regulatory policy and consumer protections, and always based upon analysis and evidence that can be clearly presented to the Commission. The Office also receives legal counsel from an attorney assigned from the Attorney General's office.
For more information on the Utah statutes governing the public utility regulatory process and these three government entities see: Utah Code Title 54.
Regulatory proceedings can be initiated by multiple methods:
- Utility request
For example, a regulated utility must make a formal request for any rate change.
- Utility filing requirements
For example, Utah law requires that a regulated electric utility file an Integrated Resource Plan every two years.
- Request from another party
Any party can follow the requirements outlined by the Utah administrative code to request agency action of the Public Service Commission. The Commission would then decide whether to initiate a proceeding in response to the request.
Some complaints are escalated into formal regulatory proceedings.
The Division of Public Utilities participates in every regulatory proceeding. The Office has automatic standing and participates in proceedings that have a material impact on residential and small commercial customers. The Public Service Commission's process allows other intervenors, who demonstrate an interest in the issue, to participate. Often industrial customers represent themselves individually or in groups. Other advocates, such as low income and renewable energy advocates, are also frequent participants.
The nature of regulatory dockets varies greatly, ranging from highly formal hearings, to a more informal collaborative process, to issues that are primarily decided based upon written memos submitted to the Commission.
If an individual person or business is interested in monitoring a regulatory proceeding, the Public Service Commission has a function on its website to sign up for notification of activity in a specific docket.
To participate as a formal party, an organization would need to request permission to intervene in accordance with the Public Service Commission rules and schedule applied to the individual proceeding.