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New CDL Report: Can State PUCs Lead in the Clean Energy Transition?

Can State PUCs Lead in the Clean Energy Transition? Lessons From Six States

By Cole Triedman, Eve Lukens-Day, Amanda Hinh, and Noah Ball-Burack, with support from Prof. Timmons Roberts

A new CDL report examines the challenges and opportunities that Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) are navigating as potential stewards of a clean energy transition in six diverse states: Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington. Each of the report's profiles investigate how the nuances of a state's political, economic, and cultural contexts, structural and procedural norms, and stakeholder dynamics explain how its PUC frames and acts on climate, as well as its overall success as a regulatory body.


Key findings:

  1. Utilities often exert significant influence over commissioner appointments and elections.

  2. Significant resource and structural advantages allow utilities to dominate PUC processes.

  3. There is great variety on how PUCs frame and act on climate change.

  4. PUCs pose significant technical and legal barriers to entry for many advocates, activists, the public, and journalists.

  5. Rapidly changing renewable energy markets are influencing utility planning and commission regulation across the board.

  6. 'The players' involved with PUC issues are relatively consistent across states.

  7. Commission staffs vary greatly in size, expertise, and reputation.

  8. Commissions fall on a spectrum from political to technocratic.

  9. A revolving door between utility and commission officials is not uncommon.


The findings suggest a range of implications for public policy, which include emphasizing the importance of legislative direction for spurring climate action at PUCs, recommending intervenor compensation programs as a means of improving public participation in PUC issues, improving utility accountability by strengthening campaign spending and lobbying rules, and more.


“We learned a lot from this research: utility commissions are heavy influenced by the very companies they are tasked to regulate," said Prof. Timmons Roberts. "But we also learned that some states do a far more serious job of balancing that power with solid laws and oversight systems than others. We need to do better in advancing the transition off of fossil fuels, and PUCs are a crucial piece of that puzzle.”


 

Read the full report:

2021_cdl_pucs_report
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.51MB


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