History of the Public Service Commission
The Utah State Legislature, in its Public Utilities Act of 1917, created the Public Utilities Commission of Utah. Governor Simon Bamberger signed the Act on March 8, 1917, and the Commission was officially organized on April 3, 1917. Recently formed utility companies were regulated by the Commission to ensure that the growth of the utility industry developed according to sound economic principles. At its inception, the Commission consisted of three Commissioners, a stenographer, a reporter, and a special investigator.
In 1935, the Legislature changed the name of the Public Utilities Commission to the Public Service Commission. Conducting a major reorganization of Utah State Government, the 1941 Legislature created the Department of Business Regulation of Utah, which included a three-member Commission known as the Commission of Business Regulation. The Commission of Business Regulation acquired the duties and responsibilities of the Public Service Commission and acted in its place.
The Division of Public Utilities (The Division) Is Formed -- In 1969, the Utah Legislature reorganized the administrative powers of the Department of Business Regulation, now known as the Department of Commerce. An executive director of the Department replaced the Commission of Business Regulation, and the Public Service Commission became an independent arm of the Department. The Division of Public Utilities was created to assist the Commission, although it did so under the management of the executive director of the Department. The Division essentially served as the staff of the Commission, auditing utilities’ books and records, assisting in the review of legal matters, submitting recommendations to the Commission, and presenting testimony in formal cases before the Commission. The Commission, however, was prohibited from exercising any administrative authority over the Division.
The 1969 reorganization merely established the neutrality of the Division, despite its role as staff to the Commission. The Division continued to participate in hearings, not as an adversarial party, but as an impartial entity seeking to fully develop the record in each Commission case. The Division was not precluded from making recommendations, but its posture was perceived as impartial so that no party felt prejudiced by the Commission’s access to the Division’s expertise.
1977 was a landmark year in the relationship between the Commission and the Division. It marked the first time the Division appealed a Commission decision to the Utah Supreme Court. Ever since, the Division has considered itself completely independent of the Commission. With legal assistance from the Attorney General’s office, the Division began to participate in hearings as an adversarial party, and has been able to appeal Commission orders to higher courts.
The Committee of Consumer Services (The Committee) is Formed -- 1977 was also the year of the creation of the Committee of Consumer Services. The composition of the Committee has changed little since its origin; it is comprised of six citizen members appointed by the Governor. Nor has its mission changed: the Committee is the consumer advocate for residential, and small business (including agricultural) customers of the state’s electric, gas, and telephone utilities. Its primary role is to help ensure that utility rates and service quality are fair and reasonable for Utah consumers. Legal assistance from the Attorney General’s office allows the Committee to appear before the Commission as an adversarial party and to appeal Commission decisions. This legal assistance and support of an eight member staff aids the Committee as it protects Utah’s utility consumers.
Reorganization Forms the PSC as it is Today -- In 1983, the Legislature reorganized utility regulation again, establishing the Public Service Commission as an independent state agency. The new statute provided for a Commission technical staff whose function was solely to advise the Commission. The Division of Public Utilities continued to perform the same duties and functions as before, including appearing before the Commission as a party representing the broad public interest. Today, the Division continues to make recommendations to the Commission for rate-making purposes, applications, hearings, and other issues affecting the quality of utility service. The Division also investigates consumer complaints, and monitors utility operations to ensure compliance with the Commission’s rules and orders. The Committee continues to function according to statute. Today, the Public Service Commission of Utah remains an independent agency with statutory duties and legislative, adjudicative, and rulemaking powers. It regulates most electrical, natural gas, telephone, and water utilities.
The Commission is headed by three full-time Commissioners, appointed by the Governor -- subject to Senate approval -- to six-year staggered terms with one member designated as Chairman. The Commissioners preside as a quasi-judicial body in formal hearings concerning utility regulation matters, such as applications for rate and service changes. A support staff of technical, legal, and clerical employees assists the Commission in analyzing the record in every case that comes before it, making recommendations for Commission decisions, preparing formal orders, and managing the daily operation of the Commission’s office.
The primary responsibility of the Commission is to ensure safe, reliable, adequate, and reasonably priced utility service. It conducts hearings and investigations of utility company operations in order to determine just and reasonable rates for service. The Commission strives to protect efficient, reliable, reasonably-priced utility service for customers, and to maintain financially healthy utility companies. These goals are attained through the regulatory decisions the Commission makes and through rules it adopts.
Each proceeding involves a utility and a number of other parties, including the Division and the Committee. Formal testimony of expert witnesses is taken and cross-examined. A court reporter transcribes the proceeding and produces a record. Following the hearing, the record is closed and the Commission, with the assistance of its technical staff, analyzes the case record, deliberates, and renders its decisions in the form of a written Report and Order. Any party in a proceeding may appeal a Commission decision to the Utah Supreme Court.