Thursday, December 19, 2019

Public Utility Commission Highlights 2019 Accomplishments And Programs

As part of its final public meeting for 2019 on December 19, the Public Utility Commission fulfilled a longstanding custom of highlighting some of the agency’s major accomplishments over the past year.
“As we say goodbye to 2019, it is a good opportunity to look back at this past year’s accomplishments at the Commission,” said Chairman Gladys Brown Dutrieuille. “This also is an excellent time to note that the Commission’s continued success is truly built on the efforts of our committed employees.”
Among the Commission’s 2019 accomplishments were the following:
-- Energy Affordability for Low-Income Customers: The PUC took major steps to address energy affordability for low-income customers by revising policy on Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs) and initiating a rulemaking for Universal Service Programs. The changes are a result of a two-year holistic review of CAP and a thorough examination of energy burdens, as discussed in the PUC’s 2019 Energy Affordability Report.
-- Lead Water Line Replacement: The Commission launched a proceeding to bring uniformity to lead line replacement under Act 120 of 2018, with PUC staff convening a working group to discuss how the Commission may develop uniform procedures, consistent with Act 120, to address lead service pipes and damaged wastewater lateral replacement issues.
-- Retail Electric and Natural Gas Market Reforms: Led by its Office of Competitive Market Oversight, the PUC launched a rulemaking to review and update the Commission’s Chapter 111 residential marketing regulations; convened stakeholders to develop a program to strengthen consumer protections for FirstEnergy CAP customers participating in the state’s retail electric market; initiated a proceeding to look at these same issues on a statewide basis; and launched a formal investigation of electric default service to see what reforms are needed as the next round of electric distribution company (EDC) default service plans are prepared.
-- Cybersecurity Summit: In August 2019, the PUC hosted a utility Cyber Summit in Harrisburg as part of an ongoing effort to help ensure that the Commonwealth’s regulated utilities are protected from cyber-attacks – guided by the PUC’s Office of Cybersecurity Compliance and Oversight.
-- Operation Blue Flame Gas Outage Exercises: The Commission continued efforts to enhance collaboration and communication between utilities and key emergency response and community organizations by joining with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to host a second annual “Operation Blue Flame” exercise.
-- Be Utility Wise Statewide Events: The PUC held its annual Be Utility Wise train-the-trainer conferences across the state this fall. Forums were held in Bethlehem, Erie, Harrisburg, Johnstown, Reading, Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre. We also launched a CAP enrollment utility fair in Delaware County. In total, more than 1,200 participants attended.
-- Electric Vehicles: In order to remove potential barriers and uncertainty surrounding the deployment of third-party electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, the PUC approved filings by several EDCs to modify tariffs to address the PUC’s EV policy statement designed to reduce regulatory uncertainty, provide greater clarity and consistency among EDCs and promote increased investment in EV charging infrastructure in the state.
-- Rural Broadband: The PUC advanced the process to assume jurisdiction over pole attachments, creating a statewide forum to remove barriers to the deployment of enhanced broadband and other services. While approving the first-ever Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) for a federal broadband deployment program in rural Pennsylvania, the PUC also supported the launch of the Pennsylvania Broadband Investment Incentive Program and pressed the Federal Communications Commission to secure federal funding.
-- Alternative Ratemaking: In order to provide incentives to improve system efficiency and ensure that utilities receive adequate revenue to maintain safe, secure and reliable service, the PUC adopted a Distribution Rates Policy Statement identifying factors the Commission will consider when utilities propose alternative ratemaking mechanisms and rate designs in distribution base rate proceedings.
-- PA One Call/Damage Prevention Committee: As part of the PUC’s jurisdiction over Pennsylvania One Call and its creation of a Damage Prevention Committee the PUC held and livestreamed nine meetings in 2019. Overall, we took more than 1,240 actions against nearly 400 underground facility owners, excavators and project owners. The actions resulted in administrative penalties totaling more than $850,000.
-- Enhanced Pipeline Safety Regulations: The Commission approved an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Order to help guide discussions about potential changes to Commission safety regulations that would more comprehensively regulate public utilities transporting petroleum products and other hazardous liquids in intrastate commerce.
-- Drilling Impact Fees: The PUC distributed a total of $251,830,900 in natural gas drilling impact fees, the largest distribution to date, and over the past eight years the PUC has collected and distributed almost $1.7 billion to communities across Pennsylvania.
-- Uber/Lyft Background Check Audits: The PUC approved its first-ever review of Uber’s driver background check process in Pennsylvania and recommended improvements to further strengthen the process in the future. A similar review involving Lyft is slated for completion in 2020.
-- Increase in Filings and Right-to-Know Requests:  In 2019, the PUC’s Secretary’s Bureau received 28,000 filings, with 65 percent of them being eFiled. Overall, the Commission served approximately 12,000 documents and responded to approximately 160 Right-to-Know requests.
For more information, visit the Public Utility Commission website.
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[Posted: December 19, 2019]

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