Friday, December 21, 2018

Chairman Gladys Brown Highlights 2018 PUC Accomplishments, Programs

On December 20, the Public Utility Commission fulfilled a longstanding custom of the Commission in highlighting some of the agency’s major accomplishments over the past year.
“We enjoyed another successful year at this Commission because of the dedication and commitment of our PUC staff,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown.  “It’s only because of the staff we have here that the PUC has such a great reputation and can tackle anything given to us by the General Assembly.”
Among the Commission’s 2018 accomplishments were the following:
-- PA One Call/Damage Prevention Committee - The Commission now has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania One Call, and several of its bureaus worked to successfully create a Damage Prevention Committee (DPC). To date the PUC has taken nearly 300 actions against facility owners, excavators and project owners across the state during meetings which are livestreamed to the public.
-- Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority - The Commission also received oversight of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.  To ensure a smooth transition, a PUC working group worked directly with PWSA and local officials to increase educational efforts toward customers, address consumer inquiries to the PUC call center and evaluate PWSA’s rate increase request.
-- Cybersecurity / New Cyber Office - The PUC hired a Director to oversee the newly created Office of Cybersecurity Compliance and Oversight. Working with utilities, state agencies, emergency responders and other organizations, the Commission is focused on better preparing for cyber and physical attacks and to better coordinate state-level response to large-scale hazardous events.
-- Rural Broadband / Area Codes - The PUC continued its efforts to help preserve Pennsylvania’s access to funding for rural broadband projects and joined with the Center for Rural Pennsylvania to encourage consumers, businesses and community organizations to take part in a broadband speed test, helping to “crowdsource” an effort to map the state’s “digital divide.”
Additionally, as part of its telecommunications efforts, the PUC assisted with the implementation of the new “445” area code in portions of Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Lehigh and Berks counties.  
-- Tax Reform Impacts on Utilities - Triggered by changes in federal tax rates, the PUC ordered 17 major electric, natural gas, and water and wastewater utilities to begin adding credits to monthly customer bills beginning July 2018 bills. Utilities are expected to return $400 million in annual savings.
-- #UtilityCareers & Veterans Workforce Development - The PUC took its ongoing, award-winning #UtilityCareers campaign across the state, joining with utilities and other state agencies at job fairs and public events. The outreach extended to the Commission’s own “microsite” where job seekers learn more about the campaign and available opportunities.
-- “Year of the Rate Case” / Increase in Filings – 2018 was the “Year of the Rate Case,” as the PUC received 18 applications from utilities for rate increase requests. Overall, the Commission received approximately 26,000 filings and served approximately 12,000 documents and there are now approximately four million pages of PUC historical files online for public review.
-- Electric Vehicles - The PUC adopted a final policy statement on third-party electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, a big step toward designing a regulatory landscape which supports innovating and dynamic pricing for EV charging.  
-- Pipeline Safety / Mutual Aid to Massachusetts - Pipeline safety continued to be a priority for the Commission this year. In addition to its in-state efforts, the PUC’s Gas Safety Division provided mutual aid and sent personnel to Massachusetts to aid in the aftermath of the September 13 natural gas line explosions in the Merrimack Valley.
-- Office of Competitive Market Oversight - Led by its Office of Competitive Market Oversight, the PUC continued moving forward on several fronts to further remove barriers to competition in the state’s natural gas and electric markets, including:
  -- Advanced efforts on regulations about the release, assignment and transfer of capacity among natural gas distribution companies and natural gas suppliers, with a technical conference held in March;
  -- Launched a rulemaking to review and update the Commission’s Chapter 54 electric supplier disclosure regulations; and
  -- Clarified the ability of customers on FirstEnergy’s CAP program to choose a competitive electric supplier through CAP-specific rules and standards.
-- NARUC / International Participation - Commissioners and staff participated on a nationwide level with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners throughout the year, including an opportunity to continue sharing best practices internationally with Commissioner and staff visits to Kosovo.
-- Energy Burden / Low-Income Issues - The Commission is in the midst of a deep exploration of energy affordability – examining the “energy burden” for households in Pennsylvania, or how much of a family’s income is spent on things like heat and light. As a complement to that study, we are evaluating Commission policies regarding “universal service programs.” Together, these two initiatives will provide important insights to improve the way we serve our most vulnerable households, and we look forward to productive discussions about energy affordability in 2019.
For more information on the Commission, visit the Public Utility Commission website.
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