8660 Public Utilities Commission
6680 - REGULATION OF UTILITIES
Californians spend more than $50 billion annually for services from industries regulated by the PUC. This includes 6 electricity utilities (80 percent of electric load in California), 913 telecommunications carriers, 129 water and sewer utilities, 5 natural gas utilities with approximately 10.8 million customers, 4 gas storage facilities, and more than 3,170 small mobile home park and propane operators.
The PUC oversees the safety of electric, communications, natural gas, and propane gas utility systems. Safety functions include both backward-looking investigation and analysis of safety incidents and utility performance, and forward-looking risk assessment to identify necessary regulatory rule reform. The PUC also performs operation and maintenance audits, outage inspections, and investigations of incidents at electric generation facilities.
The PUC conducts triennial reviews of utility operations to determine just and reasonable rates for energy services. The PUC provides guidelines for investor-owned utilities and other load-serving entities to follow when purchasing electricity on behalf of their 11.5 million customers to ensure that sufficient amounts of electricity are procured when and where needed in the state. Environmental protection and the impact of climate change are critical factors in PUC regulation and promotion of ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs, the state's mandated renewable energy programs, and other clean energy programs.
Natural gas rate regulation encompasses setting natural gas rates and overseeing services, including in-state transportation over the utilities' transmission and distribution pipeline systems, storage, procurement, metering, and billing.
The PUC establishes requirements for energy programs for low-income ratepayers, including programs providing rate discounts, financial assistance with energy bills, and the Energy Savings Assistance Program, which provides no-cost weatherization services to customers who meet low-income eligibility criteria.
The PUC conducts and manages environmental reviews pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act for transmission, telecommunications, and other infrastructure projects.
The PUC develops and implements policies for the rapidly changing communications and broadband markets, including removing barriers to a fully competitive market; enforcing customer service standards for telecommunication services; regulating basic and rural telecommunication rates; protecting consumers against telecommunications fraud; promoting widespread access to advanced video technology, and developing programs to bridge the "digital divide."
The PUC is responsible for ensuring that California's investor-owned water utilities deliver clean, safe, and reliable water to their customers at reasonable rates. The PUC's water utility work includes investigating water and sewer service quality, promoting water conservation and metering, improving low-income programs, analyzing and processing rate change requests, and tracking and certifying compliance with PUC requirements.
The Public Advisor's Office provides procedural information, advice, and assistance to individuals and groups interested in participating in PUC proceedings and advises the Commission on procedural matters related to public participation in proceedings. The Consumer Affairs Branch responds to questions regarding utility service and bills, and assists consumers who have unresolved disputes with regulated utilities through an informal process. A Supplier Diversity program promotes and monitors supplier diversity in procurement by utilities and oversees a certification clearinghouse.
6685 - UNIVERSAL SERVICE TELEPHONE PROGRAMS
The PUC oversees approximately $720 million in telecommunications programs including the California Lifeline Fund, California Teleconnect Fund, Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program, and California High Cost Funds, all of which provide needed services to consumers and communities. The objectives of these "universal telephone service" programs include: (1) ensuring basic telephone service is available to all Californians; (2) encouraging consumer choice among competitive telephone companies; (3) modifying, as necessary, the basic telephone service definition to incorporate new technology; and (4) ensuring consumers have access to sufficient information to make informed choices about basic service and universal lifeline telephone services. The California Teleconnect Fund program provides discounted telecommunication services to qualifying schools, libraries, hospitals, and community-based organizations. The California Advanced Services Fund Program encourages the deployment of broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved rural and urban areas of California.
6690 - REGULATION OF TRANSPORTATION
The PUC oversees the safety of railroads, rail transit systems, rail crossings, and other forms of motor conveyance in California. All railroads, 7 major rail transit agencies, 6 smaller transit systems, and more than 13,500 public and private crossings are subject to PUC regulation and inspection. For traditional heavy rail, the PUC's specially trained and federally-certified inspectors inspect all tracks (annually), all train equipment and facilities (thrice annually), and all signals and appurtenances; investigate all rail accidents resulting in loss of life and property damage; and ensure safe transport of hazardous materials by rail.
For rail transit systems, PUC inspectors and engineers conduct safety inspections of track, vehicles, signals and train control, and operations, as well as overall agency triennial safety audits. The PUC also has exclusive authority to approve or disapprove all highway-rail crossings of railroad or rail transit tracks, and crossing safety treatments deployed at each crossing. Additionally, the PUC jointly (with Caltrans) administers the state's annual allocation of federal funds for crossing hazard elimination projects and the state's grade separation program, which assists localities with the high cost of grade-separating highway/rail crossings.
The transportation program also oversees passenger carriers, including privately-owned for-hire passenger transportation companies (e.g., limousines, airport shuttles, and charter and scheduled bus operators), privately-owned water ferries, and household goods carriers. The program regulates rates and services, issues certificates and other licenses, enforces safety standards and insurance requirements, and protects consumers from moving companies and for-hire passenger carriers operating illegally.
6695 - OFFICE OF RATEPAYER ADVOCATES
The mandate and function of the Office of Ratepayer Advocates (ORA) is defined in Public Utilities Code Section 309.5. The ORA is a statutorily-defined state entity charged with representing and advocating on behalf of public utility customers and subscribers in all significant proceedings within the PUC's jurisdiction.
Chapter 856, Statutes of 1996 (SB 960), codified the ORA with a director appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the Governor and charged the ORA with representing ratepayer interests in Commission proceedings. Chapter 1005, Statutes of 1999 (AB 1658), directed funds from the Public Utilities Commission Utilities Reimbursement Account to be transferred in the annual budget act to the Public Utilities Commission Ratepayer Advocate Account. The law further required that "funds in the Public Utilities Commission Ratepayer Advocate Account shall be utilized exclusively by the division in the performance of its duties as determined by the director" [of ORA], and that the budget be submitted to the Commission for approval.
Chapter 440, Statutes of 2001 (SB 201), removed the limitation that ORA only represent ratepayers in PUC proceedings. SB 201 extended ORA's representation to other venues such as, but not limited to, the Energy Commission, Air Resources Board, California Independent System Operator, and legislative hearings.
Chapter 440, Statutes of 2005 (SB 608), required the PUC to provide personnel and resources to ORA, including attorneys and other legal support, sufficient to ensure that customer and subscriber interests are effectively represented in all significant proceedings. The law also authorized the ORA director to appoint a lead attorney to represent the division and that "all attorneys assigned by the Commission to perform services for the division shall report to and be directed by the lead attorney appointed by the Director" [of ORA].
Chapter 356, Statutes of 2013 (SB 96), requires the creation of an independent ORA program budget administered and utilized exclusively by ORA, subject to review and approval by the Department of Finance. SB 96 also requires the ORA director to employ personnel and resources, including attorneys and other legal support staff, at a level sufficient to ensure that customer and subscriber interests are effectively represented in all significant proceedings.