Recently, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has been in the news a lot. Articles about the Commission (as the PUC is often referred) have graced local headlines across the state. The Commission’s recent decisions on the Enbridge pipeline, Minnesota Power’s proposal to construct a new generation facility, and Governor-elect Walz’s opportunity to appoint a new Commission member at the outset of his term have drawn attention to this obscure body. But what is the Commission and what does it do?
The PUC is a quasi-judicial body composed of five members appointed by the Governor of Minnesota. That is, the Commission functions similarly to a court. It is given its authority to regulate the electric, natural gas and telecommunication sectors of the state (some of them) by law. The Commission is tasked to be objective and make decisions based on the laws of the state, determined by the legislature, and signed into action by the Governor. The Commission is to weigh the arguments of interested parties in order to arrive at decisions “in the public interest.”
In its role to protect the public interest, the PUC focuses on ensuring safe, reliable, and efficient utility service. This ensures you have access to services safely, when you want them, and in a way aligned with the public policy of the state. This could mean a determined resource mix (think renewables), maximizing efficient production (think energy efficiency), and in an affordable manner. What is “in the public interest” has evolved over the PUC’s history and continues to do so.
The dockets (imagine court cases) that the PUC take up continue to influence and change how the public interest is interpreted. These dockets determine the costs we customers pay for services, the way we are able to access these services, who pays for them, the sources they are provided from, and the programs we are able to access to keep our bills affordable. The decisions the PUC makes matter in the lives of every day customers. These decisions can hit us in the pocketbook, benefit the economy, and influence the health of the planet.
At CUB, we are actively engaged at the PUC to ensure residential and small business customers are included and matter in decision making. For us, this means advocating for affordable, reliable, and clean energy for you. We believe the PUC best represents your interest when the process is transparent and accessible, planned and articulated to the public, is based in science and analysis, and representative of the voice of the customers affected.
As the new year draws near, CUB will continue to represent you at the Commission. We will continue to articulate that when the above standards are upheld, that the PUC is the best place for the public interest to be represented and for you to realize the outcomes consumers desire. This year the PUC will take on big issues that matter to you. For an important body, which many of us barely ever hear about, the meaning of “public interest” will be a very important question that comes up. We continue to want to hear what public interest means to you. We look forward to being your voice into the new year and look forward to working with you on getting your interest heard.