Updated: Utility regulators can consult off the record under new Assembly billCORRECTION: A previous version of this story reported that under the new bill, all staff would be able to communicate off-the-record with stakeholders. In fact, most PSC staff have been able to in the past.
By: By Maureen McCollum, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
In Wisconsin, if a utility wants to increase rates, build a new power plant, or construct major power lines, the request is decided by the Public Service Commission. Generally, hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars are on the line, so PSC commissioners hear from many sides — the utility companies, consumer groups, and other interested parties.
Historically, parties involved in cases currently up for debate were not allowed to speak with specific PSC staff off the record: PSC commissioners, the executive assistants who report to the commissioners, and the case’s administrative law judge. Under AB214, the newly passed legislation, parties will be able to communicate privately with the executive assistants during this period.
Wisconsin Utilities Association executive director Bill Skewes says the changes will help PSC staff better access information.
“That, hopefully, will lead to better decisions by the commission, so key issues — the central issues in a case — have an opportunity to be clarified in some cases.”
Charlie Higley is the executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin, a nonprofit utility ratepayer advocacy group. He says the changes could undermine the once air-tight process.
“We’re just worried there will be more conversations between parties and staff at the commission that are off-the-record, yet those conversations could influence the decision-making.”
Other opponents say the utility industry, which has more lobbyists than consumer groups, could get an upper hand in decision-making.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.