Ratepayer advocate Michael Shames has been fighting utilities for a quarter century.
Bruce W. Radford is publisher of Public Utilities Fortnightly.
Calling himself the “world’s greatest consumer,” utility watchdog Michael Shames loves to tell the story of how in 1981, as a law student in San Diego, he turned a daring scheme into one of the country’s most successful-ever utility ratepayer advocacy groups. (See his online books at www.worldsgreatestconsumer.com.)
It seems he had read an obscure law-review article, explaining that when utilities sent out their monthly bills to customers, they often paid standard postage without making use of all of the allotted “space” (the postal weight allowance) in their billing envelopes.
So why not take that news straight to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)? Once there, he asked the CPUC for permission to create a nonprofit consumer group to keep tabs on California utilities. The money would come, in part, by forcing the utilities to make available all that “extra space” in their monthly billing envelopes, by stuffing them with notices to solicit contributions from customers to help fund the new watchdog group.
And so the law student Shames had started on his life’s work, helping in 1981 to create the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), where he has served as executive director since 1985. That may make Shames one of, if not the longest-serving ratepayer advocates in the country.