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House | March 27, 2013 | Committee Room | Utilities

Full MP3 Audio File

and then how this might be different if the bill passes? [SPEAKER CHANGES] We also have the Public Staff here if you would ask them questions but I can give an overview. The Public Staff was created by the General Assembly in the 70's to represent the using and consuming public before the commission. So they can intervene, they can bring matters before the commission. I believe, as Representative Cleveland was describing before, they also give technical and other guidance to anyone who appears before the commission and then they also intervene on behalf of complainants and give consumer assistance to individuals. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Follow-up? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Yes, ma'am. [SPEAKER CHANGES] And I would like to hear from the Public Staff themselves, so how would that, what I think I hear you saying is almost like, me as the public, they are my voice in front of the Utilities Commission. So how would this bill make that different? [SPEAKER CHANGES] I believe that may be more directly asked to the bill sponsor about his intentions but I believe that it would reinforce the idea that they represent the using and consuming public. I think the PCS has tried to address concerns that this would limit them in their current scope of action. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Follow-up. I've heard what I think his intent is. The problem I have is when I read it I'm not sure that that's what it does. So that's why I was asking staff, based, because you all are the ones that draft it and oversee it, what does it actually do. I think he stated what his intent is but what does it actually do? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Samuelson, we do have the Public Staff, we'll give three minutes after questions. [SPEAKER CHANGES] If I may. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Yes sir, Representative Cleveland. [SPEAKER CHANGES] The bill states the Public Staff shall not give any advice, guidance, or opinion in any proceeding or other matter before the commission that is not in the interest of the using and consuming public. Presently the Public Staff, and I'll quote, well I won't do that, presently the Public Staff does not do that. Their focus is not on the using and consuming public. Their focus is on what they think is legislative or administrative intent. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Follow-up? [SPEAKER CHANGES] One more. [SPEAKER CHANGES] But the legislators are elected by the consuming public and so, I guess, I would have thought that just as I'm a representative of my district here if I write, if we pass laws here for the interest of our constituents and they're trying to figure out what we intended, which we did for the interest of our constituents, why would that not be representing the public? [SPEAKER CHANGES] I've been here long enough, and I think you have, to know that many things get passed in the General Assembly that are not really in the interest of the consuming and using public. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Dollar. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Okay, well, a couple of things. One, I worked, in a former life, I worked three and a half years doing personnel at Commerce and during that time I worked rather extensively with the Public Staff, they were one of the agencies in the department. And I really, and I"ll just say this now and I don't say this piece of it as a reflection on the bill, per se, but they were extremely professional and extremely proficient. They were one of the best groups that I worked with and I'd had problems with certain divisions and agencies, Public Staff wasn't one of them. They were one of the ones that had their stuff together, they were, they had a very high and commendable, and I hope this is still the case, but at the time they had a very high and commendable threshold for employee performance that was very beneficial. But, so I'll step off of that and ask this question because I'm still kind of at a loss at exactly what we are getting at. I personally think the Public Staff's done a pretty good job over the years, at least that's been my observation. But in line 18 where it says, "Public Staff shall not give any advice, guidance, or opinion in a proceeding or other matter before the commission that is not int he interest of the using and consuming public," who is going to make the determination that some piece of advice, guidance, or opinion that is on a matter or a proceeding before the commission is not in the interest of the, I mean, who's going to make that judgement? Who's going to sit and say, "Ah, you said this, this," I mean, is it just going to be folks' opinion of their opinion? Who governs that? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Mr. Chairman? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Go ahead. [SPEAKER CHANGES] At the beginning of your statement, the comments you made are true, in the Public Staff I have no problem with their efficiency, competency, or anything else. They are extremely good at what they do and

I'm sure that they will fall below and if we tell them that you have to strictly work in the interest using the consuming public I have confidence that's exactly what they'll I have no problems with the manner in which the public staff as perform the duties my problem is there represented other physicians and using in considering stand Follow-up Mr. so you are saying that with this will be a self-governing matter from understanding it correctly but further can you give us know forefather examples of where they has they if the standard had been in place that they would have been in violation of the I can think of to tout my character I personally have been involved in an and not think it is in the details I could do that but it was tumescence as I get involved in that I mean they were not representing the consuming and using public they were doing as they say they were too following legislative intent intent and doing what they thought the legislature 100% recall question but were not privileged to the examples the first one was about 45 years ago and it did involve some feet racing that they were doing what's in my estimation several others probably many others was not an interest in using it in consuming public and the latest one was when intent when energy hearings as a help is about thank you to the chair concern here is the the year the interest of using in consuming public is a subjective what I consider to be in the the interest of the general public and what someone else might consider could be two entirely different things in the we give you were an example the promotion of conservation for instance might be considered by some to be a positive and in the interest of the general public and somebody else might not consider that to be something that should be pursued that the support of the diversity in the and innovation in generation capacity if for is to shoot you were to take of you of you that what we are using now let's say that all of our generation capacity right now is coal-fired and that the because is coal-fired it's a each cheaper then a mix that will have some natural gas fired of baseline generations atomic plants with baseline generations some solar plants that that that mix might produce a higher rate for instance that if we state will hold the problem might be the state would call we got all the that would work for the old ways as we move to the to the mix it may cost us a little bit more but will be healthier and that consideration by the public staff in its comments wrist is Enrique's under the existing legislation I think it is appropriate and something we can begin of them but I'm not sure what happens with the bill that you are proposing whether or not it it number one changes anything because of the subjective nature of the definition or if he changes it in such a way that some of the other considerations are being precluded so I guess that's a very long whereas the question are you tempting to preclude

These other considerations from the public staff when it makes a recommendation. [SPEAKER CHANGES] No I am not. If the public staff in their deliberations [AUDIO DROPS], and the work they do, they consider all these things. And if in the mix of things it works for the using and consuming public that's fine and dandy. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Dockum [SP]. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you Mr. Chairman. I don't mean to belabor the point Representative Cleveland but just to kind of follow up on representative Dollar and I too have always heard excellent reports on the public staff. To give an example of say Representative Hamilton and I form a group, say Hamilton and Dockum [SP] for better electric rates. And we want to come before the utilities commission to advocate for that but we need help that we're an official group or entity here that's stated in the bill, help me here, are you saying that the public staff could not help us with out argument or give us legal advice? [SPEAKER CHANGES] My understanding is that an issue has to be before the public staff and if you have an issue before the public staff then they can assist you. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Follow up Mr. Chairman. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Yes sir. [SPEAKER CHANGES] This would not necessarily be before the public staff it would be before the utilities commission and we would solicit help from the public staff to make our point. Are you... [SPEAKER CHANGES] I'm not trying to preclude that at all, no Representative Luebke, and I'd like to make it perfectly clear again I have no qualms, doubts, or anything else about the efficiency, competency and the professionalism of the public staff. They do an excellent job. But I'd like them to represent the use and consuming public. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Luebke. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Commission, Chairman, well, representative Cleveland, what you just said I don't know why we have this bill. Because... [SPEAKER CHANGES] Well if you, if I may. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative, let representative Luebke finish. [SPEAKER CHANGES] I guess it's a question but then I'd like to continue with some comments. But first of all, no, why do we have this bill if what you just said you don't question the professionalism, you don't have any problems with the kinds of information they provide the utilities commission. Given what you just said why would you want to just withdraw your bill at this point? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Let me read something that was sent to me some time ago in an email from a public staff, a member of the public staff. And it says the public staff does not have the right to advocate positions contrary to mandates passed by the general assembly, nor would it presume to do so. And I go back to my original statement, their representing legislative intent or the administrations desires. Their charge is to represent the using and consuming public and that's the rationale for the bill. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Follow up? [SPEAKER CHANGES] yes sir. [SPEAKER CHANGES] I'm thinking about the public staff. I remember the public staff was established by governor Hunt or governor Hunt recommended it to the general assembly in 1977, and the language you use now, the using, consuming public was at the heart of that recommendation and went into place. I'm just saying and you can interject if you disagree with me but recently the public staff negotiated with Progress Energy and as a result of their negotiations Progress Energy dropped its recommendation or its request by 50%. I don't have the numbers, I don't have the time to dig them out this morning but they ended up saying, okay, we agree, we'll only ask for 50% of what we originally had. So they went forward to the utilities commission which is the decision maker you referenced a moment ago, public staff charging fees, public staff doesn't do that. Progress Energy went to the utilities commission with only half the request in terms of dollars taken form peoples pockets and industries pockets than what they were going to do. Now if that isn't representing the using and consuming public I don't know what is. So my question is what's wrong here? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Well my first response would be if I were looking for an increase in cost I would look for the highest amount I could find and hope for some baseline someplace. And my second response to the second portion of your statement is the public staff I am not personally aware...

[0:00:00.0] …Of anytime that the commission has changed any public staff recommendation. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Well, if I may just one more thing Mr. Chairman. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Yes Sir. [SPEAKER CHANGES] I just say that if the public staff currently have with private energy one, that’s tremendous service on behalf of the using and consuming public whether it’s households or it’s industry. So, it’s hard you to examples are not that all persuasive to me that they are not acting on behalf of the public, they make reservations, they make recommendations to the commission, commission is not required by law to accept their recommendations it’s for them to consider. The Governor Hunt put it in abdicated for this in 1977 right after he was elected in 1976 because he felt that the public wasn’t represented well enough on the Utilities Commission that the Utilities Commission probably had a bias in favor with the companies and the Governor wanna to provide some kind of balance. I think the public staff agree with the ___[01:06] that I think over the years they provided that balance and it’s a wonderful thing. So, I can’t support your bill and other members will not support as well, thank you. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Hall. [SPEAKER CHANGES] I think my question is already been ask someone I was just having little trouble to understanding exactly what the bill does and one of your sponsors you said that if the public staff goes through deliberations and considers everything then they can still go ahead with these hearings so they work everything and one example you gave of a violation that passed was when energy hearings, I think Representative Dollar already ask the question but I didn’t quite understand what the answer was and the future for example say that the public staff consider everything and they decided that it was in the public interest to have more wind energy hearings. Who will tell them they were in violation? [SPEAKER CHANGES] I guess if someone wants to take them to court and tell they were in violation they could do with that, who tells them they were in violation or not? So, the question is… [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Elmore. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Cleveland from my understanding what you are trying to do with this bill is just ____[02:42] the original mission of the public staff not necessarily change their role but ___ what their original intention was and am I correct what I’m saying? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Yes, I want them to focus on using and consuming. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Follow up. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Yes Sir. [SPEAKER CHANGES] So, you are not trying to change this entity at all you are just trying to strengthen clarify language to help and conduct their mission more effectively. [SPEAKER CHANGES] You could say that I wanna refocus and it’s really are representing the using and consuming public. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Dollar and Representative Warn looking to public staff Representative Dollar. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you. Well, the couple of things, one I’m little bit confused about the legislative intent because from the memo that you had if they are supposed to follow legislative intent like every other agency unless I’m missing something here now. It may have been legislative intent from a prior legislature that I would disagree with but if that’s the case then it’s my obligation to say, “Okay, I’m open to bill and I’m gonna change that legislative intent.” That’s just my observation but otherwise we try to get, we usually get more problems with agencies not following legislative intent than actually following the legislative intent. The other thing was I’m not sure about the comments of Governor Hunt but I do know that the public staff and they can correct me if I have got this wrong, when they were constituted and as they develop they basically sort of handling the negotiations and all these complex cases. And they have the financial and legal firepower basically in that group to handle those negotiations and I believe Representative Dockham was talking about they interact with whether it’s utilities, ___ [04:56] General’s Office or the lawyers… [0:04:59.8] [End of file…]

All the various ?? parties in a rate case most of the time trying to negotiate a proposal to in most cases keeping us out of superior court with these matterw which I think is a very good thing for us. I would have one question for you along that line and that is have there been any of the utility companies or the attorney general's office or the many user groups or folks that work with the public staff on a regular basis that have come forward and expressed a concern? [SPEAKER CHANGES] The only concerns that I have received was when I filed my initial bill and they were concerned about not being able to work with the public staff and that was the reason for the PCS. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Follow up. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Yes, sir. [SPEAKER CHANGES] But in terms of bringing the bill forward, that was not as a result of concerns from those groups saying this needs to be changed. [SPEAKER CHANGES] No. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Warren. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just wanted to ask the bill sponsor if he would consider tabling the bill and maybe recalendaring it when we have a little more clarification for the purpose of the bill and maybe an opportunity to provide a little more background for the basis of the bill. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Representative Cleveland. Jim Cleveland. [SPEAKER CHANGES] I will withdraw the bill at this time and we will recalendar it later. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Since the public staff is here I'd like for you guys to just be patient for 3 minutes, let the public staff speak. Mr. Gruber, you're recognized for a period not to exceed 3 minutes. Please introduce yourself. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Robert Gruber, and I've been Executive Director for almost 30 years. Before that I was counsel to the Utilities Commission. I want to say that I think our staff has gratified by Representative Dollar's remarks and I think we've tried to be professional over the years and I think it's clear that we've, I've never heard anybody say that we acted in a political fashion at the behest of any administration. I was appointed in 1989 by Governor Jim Martin and I don't believe he regrets that appointment. We have our, we're supposed to represent the public interest, you're right, that's not always clear what it is. We do the best we can from reading the statute and making interpretations of the statute. There's a policy section of the statute that lays out the policies of the state. There's also a statute if you want to, 6215, which is very detailed about what the public staff's duties are and it's very clear that we, what our duties are and that's to do our best to represent the using and consuming public in all these matters. I'm a little, some people have said well this bill doesn't do anything, but I'm afraid that if you add language to a bill at some point lawyers are going to argue under statutory construction principles that it does mean something and it could lead to vagueness about how we're supposed to proceed and what our responsibilities are so I'm, maybe at this point it'd be, if you'd like, Mr. Chairman, I could answer any questions anyone might have. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Is there any questions for Mr. Gruber. Representative Samuelson. [SPEAKER CHANGES] I have one. I'll ask you the same question I asked staff. If this bill passes what will the change be for you because some were saying well it's just clarifying language, some seem to think it's doing the opposite, it's unclarifying the language, so if this were to pass can you anticipate how you would see it impacting what you all do? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Mr. Gruber. [SPEAKER CHANGES] It's not clear and I guess that's the problem. It's not clear what changes it would cause and I guess you all have heard many of you say many times if it's not broke don't fix it, and I don't know exactly what the problem the bill's trying to

?? but we're happy to work with members and improve and improve our performance. If anyone has any concerns about it. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you Mr. Gruber. Any more questions for Mr. Gruber? If not this meeting is adjourned. Thank you guys.