Why PUF Does Days at State Commissions


Celebrating Superstars

Fortnightly Magazine - April 2019

At PUF, we love utility regulation. We should get T-shirts made. You may have seen a mention in my February 1, 2019 column that the PUF team has talked with commissioners and staff in around a hundred interviews at seven state commissions over the last year alone, at Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, and Maine. Well now add Connecticut, Kentucky, and North Carolina to the list, plus a shout out to Chair Willie Phillips at the D.C. PSC. With more to come.

PUF is so very passionate about our state commissions. And we are doubly passionate about commission staff. Their stories are rarely told. Yet they are superstars in their own right. These hardworking individuals make up teams that toil away usually in relative obscurity to make the lives of all of us better. We find them to be caring, kind, committed, relentless, and smart. They know the public interest and make sure it happens.

The work is tiring but commission staff manages to have fun at it. They always emphasize the teamwork aspect of what they do when interviewed. We can tell they love their jobs. The people who live in their jurisdictions are so fortunate to have these staff looking out for them. They want the public to know that they do care, that there is a human being making sure their electric, gas and water services are adequate, and rates are just and reasonable. These are stories that matter and need to be told.

Take a look back at the establishment of Public Utilities Fortnightly magazine. Founded in 1928, PUF was created to provide a neutral platform for key stakeholders to contribute to the conversation surrounding regulatory and policy issues. NARUC was there in 1928 and endorsed PUF at its annual meetings in the late twenties.

But that sounds dry, and it doesn't convey how much I want to gush about how meaningful regulation is to us and how passionate we at PUF are about the benefits utility regulation has brought to this nation. We are so fortunate to have the regulated utility system that we have. The system works.

We love talking to commissioners at the states. Yes, each state is very different, which makes it a joy to delve in and find out how each commission works. It is truly an honor to be welcomed into a new state commission, meet everyone, see how the work gets done, where the hearings are held, and find out who does what. We love it!

But despite their differences, we do find a lot in common. The commissioners and staff are all hard working and caring. Most are doing more with less staff, yet somehow, they manage to get it all done with a smile. They truly care about the public interest and they deserve and want that story told. Even though we come in and distract them from their important work, they are always patient and kind with PUF, and educate us on how they regulate.

We do our best to take you inside these state commissions and show you what makes them tick so you too can learn what is different and what is the same across all jurisdictions. PUF staff is trying hard to visit as many as we can of our fabulous state commissions. It is what we enjoy doing most. There is nothing better for us than going to a commission and meeting everyone and learning how they regulate.

Think about it. If you are reading this column you understand regulation and have held many state commission orders in your hands. The final product. And maybe you have attended commission hearings. But how often have you had the chance to listen to the people behind that order explain how the sausage is made?

We love digging in behind the scenes. We love listening to commission directors explain work flow, or engineers explain the nuts and bolts of gas safety inspections, or IT staff talk about changing over to new systems. There is real enthusiasm when they speak to us and you can feel the ardor when they describe what they do.

And what they do really matters. To every person who ever turned on an electric switch, or a water faucet, or expected to be warm in the winter or cool in the summer, the commissioners and staff at these hallowed buildings really matter to us. I realize that is considered fundamental now, as commissions are grappling with new technologies way beyond basic utilities services.

So PUF wants to make sure that all of you obtain the acknowledgment you deserve and that our readers gain insight into what you do. These in-depth interviews are the brainchild of PUF editor-in-chief Steve Mitnick, and he hit upon something important that was missing in our industry.

It is an added bonus to be able to send extra copies of the magazine with your interviews and photos, as people often tell us they do. And we feel really good when we see copies hanging in people's offices. So, thank you for continuing to let us tell your stories. I'll say it again. It is indeed an honor.