Who is the Commission and Types of Cases Handled by the Commission
The Public Utility Commission is comprised of three commissioners who are appointed by the governor to serve six-year terms, with new terms starting every two years. The Commission's principal responsibilities are to:
- supervise the rates, quality of service, and financial management of Vermont’s public utilities (electric, gas, telecommunications, and private water companies)
- review the environmental and economic impacts of proposals to build new electric generation and transmission facilities and to modify existing facilities
- review the environmental and economic impacts of proposals to build natural gas infrastructure
- review the economic impacts of proposals to purchase energy supply
- evaluate the financial aspects of nuclear plant decommissioning and radioactive waste storage
- review rates paid to independent power producers
- oversee the statewide Energy Efficiency Utility Program
- monitor the safety of certain hydroelectric dams
- supervise cable television companies, although federal law preempts most authority to regulate cable rates or programming
The Commission has a staff that includes hearing officers, who conduct many proceedings and make recommendations for final decisions for the Commission to consider for approval. The Commission is also supported by an administrative staff, which includes the Clerk of the Commission, who is responsible for scheduling Commission proceedings and responding to inquiries from the public.
As a quasi-judicial body the Commission has responsibilities and powers that resemble those of a judge in a court of law. In its decision-making, the Commission is required to act as a neutral arbiter to determine facts and draw legal conclusions from them. Commission practices generally follow the Vermont Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern civil trial court proceedings. The Commission also has the ability to develop its own procedures, rules, and guidelines.
Generally, the ultimate purpose of a Commission decision is to determine whether a proposal will serve the long-term public good of the State of Vermont. This is a broader mission than the responsibilities of the other State agencies that participate in Commission cases.
A number of State agencies and departments regularly participate in proceedings before the Commission, often appearing as parties arguing for the Commission to adopt their points of view. These agencies have specific roles and duties assigned by law, which are described below.
Department of Public Service: The Department of Public Service (typically referred to as the Department, DPS, or PSD) is a State agency that is independent from the Commission. The Department’s mission is to serve all Vermont citizens in energy, telecommunications, and water utility matters, through public advocacy, planning, programs, and other actions that meet the public’s need for least-cost, environmentally sound, efficient, reliable, secure, sustainable, and safe utility systems. The Department is a mandatory party to all Commission cases and is charged with providing evidence and making recommendations on any of these issues that are relevant in a case. The Department is tasked with representing the broad interests of the people of the State in Commission cases; it does not represent individual members of the public. However, members of the public who have concerns about cases before the Commission may share their concerns with the Department, which can be contacted at: DPS Contact Info
Agency of Natural Resources (ANR): ANR is a mandatory party in Commission cases involving the physical siting of utility infrastructure, including electric generation facilities (such as solar and wind projects), electric transmission facilities (such as power lines and substations), natural gas pipelines, and cell towers. ANR is charged with providing evidence and recommendations related to how the construction and operation of a project may affect natural resources in Vermont.
Division for Historic Preservation (DHP): DHP is not a mandatory party in Commission cases. However, DHP often obtains party status to participate in Commission proceedings. DHP provides evidence and recommendations related to how the construction and operation of a project may affect historic sites in Vermont.
Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets (AAFM): AAFM is a mandatory party in Commission proceedings where the siting and operation of large electric generation facilities may affect primary agricultural soils. AAFM may request to be a party in cases involving the siting and operation of smaller electric generation facilities or other utility infrastructure.
The Commission addresses a broad range of issues primarily related to the operations of electric, natural gas, telecommunications, private water, and cable television companies.
Within these areas, the Commission rules on requests for approval to build and operate infrastructure projects, such as electric generation facilities (including solar and wind projects), electric transmission facilities (such as power lines and substations), cell towers, and natural gas pipelines and associated infrastructure.
The Commission also regulates the rates, charges, and terms of service of utility companies in the above industries. This includes reviewing requests for rate increases, service quality requirements, and consumer complaints.