Utility, Pipeline Regulators Meet In Anchorage This Week: NARUC’S Western Conference of Public Service Commissioners

Commentary by

Dave Harbour

In an earlier life, your publisher served as Chairman and then member of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.  In that capacity, we served as Vice Chairman, Gas Committee, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) and as Chairman of the Western Conference Gas Committee.  

In the course of that work, we arranged for Governor Frank Murkowski and U.S. Senator Ted Stevens to address NARUC.  We wrote and obtained an Alaska gas pipeline resolution in support of the upcoming Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Act, and coordinated joint NARUC and Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) projects — including creation of  a $300 thousand study to determine the economic and environmental effects of NOT developing America’s energy resources, completed following our commissioner appointment.  

We also saw NARUC create, against our opposition, political and not duly considered advocacy to encourage states to adopt anti-consumer policies under the cover of “climate change” and “renewable energy portfolio standards” that has ended up costing both taxpayers (i.e. via subsidies, a la Solyndra and Solarcity) and ratepayers (i.e. ratepayers still have to PAY to have fossil fuel powered electricity on ‘standby’ — even when it is unused — for times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine).  In fact, we believe NARUC’s more activist members have effectively thwarted reasonable energy and utility projects while unnecessarily increasing consumer costs.   

*     *     *

We compliment the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, under the leadership of Chairman Bob Pickett, for hosting this week’s meeting, agenda below.

We hope Alaska’s media is alert to this opportunity to hear speakers inform commissioners of matters important to both North American policy makers and Alaska’s energy and political leadership.

We especially urge America’s fossil fuel companies to be represented strongly at the meetings of NARUC, the IOGCC and the Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC), whose resolutions and policy determinations affect national as well as state policies.  To neglect these meetings is as potentially damaging to a company as failing to respond to a permit application hearing for an oil, gas or mining proceeding at any level of government.  Be assured that such meetings are fully populated by crony capitalist and enviro-activist camp followers!  Why would the free market not be there in full force?

And, by “represented strongly at the meetings” of these influential organizations, we do not mean mid-level executives who attend public sessions, take notes, go home, distribute reports and fill out expense reports.  By representation, we mean active participation to better inform — not lobby — these public officials whose desire is to create ‘just and reasonable’ consumer rates for energy related utilities and for pipelines.  After all, their ‘just and reasonable’ adjudicated rate making is designed as much to give regulated pipelines and utilities the ‘opportunity but not the guarantee to make a fair return both of and on their investments’, just as their role also requires them to provide a just and reasonable rate to consumers.

We should make sure that in the future we oppose political agendas in the form of legislatively mandated renewable portfolio standards which impose political conditions on the otherwise objective ratemaking process.  To tell an adjudicatory, ratemaking tribunal that, “we want you to be just and reasonable, but here are some more political conditions we want you to infuse into the ratemaking process,” is to tell them, “you may no longer fairly adjudicate just and reasonable utility and pipeline rates; henceforth, you will favor subsidized industries that we support and discourage energy industries and projects we do not favor.”

Such political pollution of objective, regulatory pipeline and utility ratemaking is an attack on free enterprise and consumer interest.

On the other hand, note that in the agenda below NARUC gives significant emphasis to the issue of ‘cyber security’ and related ‘critical infrastructure’ concerns, as it has for many years.  Resolutions alerting the Congress and President to the nature and immediacy of utility and pipeline cyber and critical infrastructure issues could benefit citizens and the national interest without creating monetary winners and losers as is the case with the myriad climate change issues.

(Note: while in this instance we focus on regulated energy entities, we also respect the broad responsibilities state and federal NARUC regulators have for all types of public utilities.  Our criticism of commissioners acting on political matters in the capacity of a national organization is reflected in such cases as ‘climate change’ and ‘renewable portfolio standards’ issues.  This is because when commissioners pass a politically inspired resolution in their national body, they cannot employ the same investigatory and due diligence prowess to a matter as they would when dealing with the same matter in an adjudicatory, state commission docket.  Short changing due process, including public comment periods, at any level by public officials cannot consistently benefit the public interest, nor is there any way to enforce just and reasonable policies outside of the states’ processes, which accommodate an agency appeal opportunity and ultimate resolution within the courts.  Certainly, there is a need for national organizational resolutions in some cases, but those issues should be approached with caution.     This subject about what or what should not be an appropriate subject for a NARUC resolution might make a good subject for debate at Dr. Jan Beecher’s Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University (MSU), although under the rigorous academic scrutiny employed in that venerable place of learning, I’m not so confident that my opinions would often survive!   MSU is where the nation’s regulatory commissioners receive their ‘boot camp’ training to become commissioners; quite a respected and essential institution in the world of public utility and pipeline rate regulators.  

Please note that readers are always encouraged to help us maintain both the credibility and accuracy of our archives by offering  additions or corrections to facts contained in our news or editorial material.)

-dh, webmaster@northerngaspipelines.com

Western Conference of Public Service Commissioners

May 21-24, 2017

May 21, Sunday
4:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. Registration
5:00 p.m. -7:00 p.m. Welcome Reception

May 22, Monday
7:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast
7:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Registration
8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. General Session #1 – Welcome Patrick J. McCormick III, Special Counsel to the United States Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Commissioner Roundtable #1 Moderator: Commissioner Stephen McAlpine, Regulatory Commission of Alaska Jeffrey P. Ackermann-Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission Eric Anderson, Commissioner, Idaho Public Utilities Commission Lorraine H. Akiba, Commissioner-Hawaii Public Utilities Commission David W. Danner, Chairman, Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission Lisa Hardie, Commissioner, Oregon Public Utilities Commission Jordan White, Commissioner, Public Service Commission of Utah
9:00 a.m.-9:15 a.m. Networking Break
9:15 a.m.-10:15 a.m. Concurrent Sessions A
A1 Cybersecurity and the State Utility Regulator – Chairman Robert M. Pickett, Regulatory Commission of Alaska Clay Storey, Senior Security Manager, Avista
Joseph McClelland, Director, Office of Energy Infrastructure Security, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Phil Jones, Phil Jones Consulting, former Commissioner, Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission Harold T. Hoang, Colonel, United States Air Force, Director J6, Cyber Operations/C4 Systems, Alaskan NORAD Region and Alaskan Command

A2 Energy Imbalance Market, or the Wild West Interconnect – Commissioner Ann Rendahl, Paul Suskie, Executive Vice President & General Counsel, Southwest Power Pool Stacey Crowley, Vice President, Regional Affairs, California ISO Carl Linvill, Principal, Regulatory Assistance Project; Member, EIM Governing Body

10:15 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Networking Break

10:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Concurrent Sessions B

B1 DER 2.0: The Evolution of Distributed Energy Resource Technologies and Regulations–Commissioner Lorraine H. Akiba, Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Robert S. Kenney, Vice President, CPUC Regulatory Relations, Pacific Gas and Electric Company John Goodin, CAISO Leonard Rainow, Chief Technology Officer, GE Energy Connections Digital Brad W. Rockwell, Power Supply Manager, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative Lon Huber, Director, Strategen Walker Wright, Vice President of Public Policy, Green Charge B2 Telecommunication Trends – Commissioner Rebecca Pauli, Regulatory Commission of Alaska Commissioner Paul Kjellander, Idaho Public Utilities Commission Benjamin Aron, CTIA Mark Reynolds, NW Region Vice President Public Policy, CenturyLink Shawn Uschmann, Director of External Affairs, AT&T Sherry Lichtenberg, National Regulatory Research Institute

11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Annual Conference Luncheon

12:45 p.m.-1:45 p.m. Concurrent Sessions C

C1 Water: When Government Fails-Commissioner Doug Little, Arizona Corporation Commission Richard Svindland, President, California and Hawaii American Water, Janice Beecher, Ph.D., Director, Institute of Public Utilities, Michigan State University Shawn Bradford, Vice President, Corporate Services, EPCOR Water USA Grace Soderberg, Director, State Regulatory Relations, National Association of Water Companies J. Brett Jokela, General Manager, Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility

C2 Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) Reform – Commissioner Kristine Raper, Idaho Public Utilities Commission Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO, Independent Energy Producers Association Jonathan M. Weisgall, Vice President, Berkshire Hathaway Energy Philip D. Moeller, Senior Vice President, Edison Electric Institute

1:45 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Networking Break

2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m. NARUC Resilience Lab– Sharon Thomas, Senior Program Officer, NARUC Research Lab

Evening on own

May 23, Tuesday

7:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast

7:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Registration

8:00 a.m.-9:15 a.m. General Session #2 CEO Panel-Chairman Robert M. Pickett, Chairman, Regulatory Commission of Alaska Jacob DeWitte, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, OKLO Inc. Patricia Vincent-Collawn, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, PNM Resources & Vice Chairman of the Board, Edison Electric Institute Kimberly Harris, President & Chief Executive Officer, Puget Sound Energy Gregory F. Chapados, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, GCI Oran Paul, President, Fairbanks Sewer & Water, Inc. Thomas Starrs, Vice President, Market Strategy and Policy, Sunpower

9:15 a.m.-9:25 a.m. Networking Break

9:25 a.m.-10:25 a.m. Concurrent Sessions D

D1 Innovation: Bringing Utilities and Regulation into the Digital Age – Vice Chairman Travis Kavulla, Montana Public Service Commission Tom Forese, Chairman, Arizona Corporation Commission Ken Schisler, Vice President Regulatory and Government Affairs, EnerNOC Anda Ray, Senior Vice President, Energy, Environment, and External Relations, Electric Power Research Institute

D2 Do We Still Need State USF in Today’s World? If so, How Should It be Directed? – Jeffrey Ackermann, Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission Michael Picker, President, California Public Utility Commission Chairman Sandy Jones, New Mexico Tina Pidgeon, Senior Vice President, Governmental Affairs and Senior Counsel

10:25 a.m.-10:35 a.m. Networking Break

10:35 a.m.-11:35 a.m. Concurrent Sessions E

E1 Gas Storage and Pipeline Safety: Preparing for the Acts of God and Failures of Man. Is Gas a Viable Bridge From Here to Eternity?-Commissioner Stephen McAlpine, Regulatory Commission of Alaska Ron Edelstein, Director of Regulatory and Government Relations, Gas Technology Institute Matt Federle, Manager of Gas Storage Plant, Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska Rebecca Massello, Security and Operations, AGA Chris Mele, Legislative Director, Energy, NARUC

E2 The Intersection of Energy, Environment and Infrastructure, and the Aftermath of the Clean Power Plan-Commissioner Norman Rokeberg Commissioner Tim Echols, Georgia Public Service Commission Commissioner Doug Little, Arizona Corporation Commission Robert S. Kenney, Vice President, CPUC Regulatory Relations, Pacific Gas and Electric Company

11:35 a.m. Lunch on your own.

11:45 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Afternoon activities
Climate Change: Glacial Recession, Arctic Ice Melt, Coastal Erosion, Changing Weather Patterns, What Can We Do? Busses to Portage Glacier and Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (Box lunch provided.) Or Networking in Anchorage 5:45 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Shuttle – Hotel to Museum Reception & Dinner (Returns TBD)

6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. Annual Reception & Dinner at Anchorage Museum
May 24, Wednesday

8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. Business Meeting – Western Conference Commissioners

8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast

8:00 a.m.-10:45 a.m. Registration

9:00 a.m.-10:00 Concurrent Sessions F

F1 Can Nuclear Innovate? – Jordan White, Commissioner, Utah Public Service Commission Tim Echols, Commissioner, Georgia Public Service Commission Everett L. Redmond II, Ph.D., Senior Technical Advisor, New Reactor and Advanced Technology, Nuclear Energy Institute Todd Allen, Ph.D., Professor, University of Wisconsin; Senior Fellow, Third Way Jacob DeWitte, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Oklo Inc.

F2 The Role of Incentives in Public Utility Regulation: An Institutional Perspective –Janice Beecher, Ph.D., Director, Institute of Public Utilities, Michigan State University

10:00 a.m.-10:15 a.m. Networking Break

10:15 a.m.-11:45 a.m.

General Session #3
Commissioner Roundtable #2 Moderator: Commissioner Norman Rokeberg, Regulatory Commission of Alaska Commissioner Andy Tobin, Arizona Corporation Commission Commissioner Rebecca Pauli, Regulatory Commission of Alaska Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves, California Public Utilities Commission Chairman Brad Johnson, Montana Public Service Commission Commissioner Patrick H. Lyon, New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Kara Brighton Fornstrom, Deputy Chair, Wyoming Public Service Commission

11:45 a.m. Adjourn