PUC Modernization Issue Briefs

Purpose, People, and Process

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Public utilities commissions (PUCs) in the United States are uniquely positioned to orchestrate the transition to a zero-carbon grid. These state-level regulatory bodies hold decision-making authority over the utilities that serve roughly 72 percent of US electricity customers. But PUCs must modernize to keep pace with the transition to a decarbonized, more distributed, and flexible grid.

Unfortunately, most PUCs have not been modernized to make decisions based on the need to eliminate the pollution that hurts our economy, health, and communities; to prioritize equity; or to ensure our communities are protected from climate-induced natural disasters. This leaves many commissions taking on the gargantuan transition to a more equitable, zero-carbon grid with unclear boundaries on their legal authority and responsibility.

This series of PUC Modernization Issue Briefs focuses on three dimensions of PUC modernization: purpose, people, and process. The series aims to assist policymakers, advocates, and regulators in their zero-carbon efforts. The briefs each draw on independent RMI analysis and more than a dozen interviews with industry experts.

The first brief in the series focuses on the purpose dimension, exploring why the role of state PUC must evolve in the face of an increasingly complex energy system. The brief includes priority actions for state policymakers and the PUCs themselves, including updating and clarifying the mission and regulatory authority of the PUC, as well as modernizing the definition of the “public interest” that guides PUC decisions.