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How does the Commission work?

Mission: The Maine Public Utilities Commission regulates electric, gas, telephone and water utilities to ensure that Maine citizens have access to safe and reliable utility services at rates that are just and reasonable for all ratepayers.

History: The Maine Legislature created the Commission in 1913; it began operation on December 1, 1914.

Regulation: The Commission currently regulates approximately 430 electric, telephone, water, and gas utility companies and districts. For these companies, the Commission establishes rates, grants utility operating authority, regulates utility service standards and monitors utility operations for safety and reliability. It also has limited authority over water transportation in Casco Bay. The Commission responds to customer questions and complaints and provides information to the public and policy-makers.

Process: Like a court, the Commission adjudicates cases and it may take testimony, subpoena witnesses and records, issue decisions or orders, hold public and evidentiary hearings, and encourage participation by all affected parties, including utility customers. The Commission also initiates investigations and rulemakings, resolves procedural matters, and responds to legislative directives.

Commissioners: The three full-time Commissioners are nominated by the Governor, reviewed by the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Utilities and Energy and confirmed by the full Senate, for staggered terms of 6 years. The Governor designates one Commissioner as Chairman. The Commissioners make all final Commission decisions by public vote or action of the majority.

Staff: The Commission’s staff includes accountants, engineers, lawyers, financial analysts, consumer specialists, and administrative and support staff. Staff performs myriad duties in order to carry out the Commission’s regulatory responsibilities as well as perform other functions assigned to the Commission by the Legislature (hold auctions for standard offer electricity supply, solicit bids for long-term electricity contracts, investigate green power options, and much more.

In adjudicatory proceedings, the staff act as advisors to the Commission.Lawyers on staff manage the procedural aspects of a case.The staff assists the Commission in developing the record of the case and analyzing the information presented by the parties (persons who are formal intervenors in the case).Staff asks questions of parties either orally or through written data requests.If staff intends to rely on facts not in the record or if it conducts an independent financial or technical analysis, this information is provided to the parties in the form of a document called a “Bench Analysis.” Parties can ask questions of the staff about the Bench Analysis. During a settlement process, staff can participate in settlement discussions if all parties agree. Staff does not sign any settlement agreement (called a “stipulation”) which might result from the discussions.If a case is not settled, formal adjudicatory hearings and briefings are held after which, staff issues a recommended decision called a Hearing Examiner’s Report. All parties may file comments (called “exceptions”) on this Report.The Commission (the three Commissioners) then publicly deliberates the matter and issues a decision.

Divisions: The Commission is divided into six operating divisions.

The Telephone and Water Division and the Electric and Gas Division are designated to work on the issues related to these industries. Division staff conduct financial investigations and analyses of utility operations, analyze applications by utilities to issue securities, advise the Commission on matters of rate base, revenues, expenses, depreciated and cost of capital, engineering, rate design, energy science, statistics and other technical elements of policy analysis for all utility areas.

The Consumer Assistance Division (CAD) provides information and assistance to utility customers to help them resolve disputes with utilities. CAD investigates a variety of complaints involving utility service including: quality of utility service, billing disputes, payment arrangements, rates or charges, disconnection, and utility repairs. The CAD processes complaints and in response determines what utility practices, if any, should be corrected. The CAD also educates the public and utilities about consumer rights and responsibilities and other utility-related consumer issues, and evaluates utility compliance with State statutes and Commission rules. The CAD Director is also assigned responsibility for managing Commission Damage Prevention and Gas Safety activities.

The Legal Division provides hearing examiners—legal staff who manage the proceedings--in cases before the Commission. Staff in this division assists in preparing and presenting Commission views on legislative proposals. This division also represents the Commission before federal and state appellate and trial courts, and various regional and federal administrative and regulatory agencies.

The Emergency Services Communication Bureau oversees the implementation and operation of the statewide Enhanced 9-1-1 system.

The Administrative Division handles day-to-day operational management of the Commission, with responsibilities for fiscal and personnel matters, contract and docket management, and physical plant. This division includes staff working on legislative support and public communications. The administrative staff also provides support services to the other areas of the Commission and assists in coordinating Commission activities.