NARUC pushes for consumer advocacy office, more broadband funding oversight

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners finished their 122nd Annual Meeting Wednesday, passing a host of resolution that will guide the groups agenda for the upcoming year. Atop the list was support for the establishment of a federal consumer advocacy office on energy issues; support for federal funding of broadband stimulus oversight; and a resolution to recognize hydropower as a renewable source of energy.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have state utility consumer advocate offices that can interject in matters of energy regulation. But following the NARUC’s annual meeting, the group is openly supporting a federal office to speak for consumers in areas where the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is involved.

According to NARUC officials current federal legislation being debated in Washington would establish a consumer advocacy office whose duties would include:

  • Representing energy consumers on matters concerning FERC-jurisdictional rates or service of electricity and natural-gas companies
  • Monitoring and reviewing energy customer complaints and grievances on matters concerning FERC-jurisdictional rates or service of public utilities and natural-gas companies
  • Investigating within the context of formal FERC proceedings, the FERC-jurisdictional services provided by, the rates charged by such companies, and the valuation of the FERC-jurisdictional properties of electricity and natural-gas companies<

Another area of interest for NARUC in the coming year has to do with broadband stimulus funds and their oversight. Recently, the Department of Commerce’s Office of the Inspector General issued a warning that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is not doing enough to monitor how grantees are spending the stimulus money. The NTIA has doled out slightly more than half of the over $7 billion in ARRA funding for broadband. The other stimulus money is being managed by the Rural Utilities Commission.

“Despite the potential lack of funding, NTIA’s post-award monitoring and oversight practices need to be strengthened in several ways,” the report said. “Some agreements with other Commerce agencies are unclear and have not been carefully managed” and “some aspects of award monitoring are not being completed promptly or efficiently.”

A continuing resolution passed by congress expires in December, meanwhile the NTIA is asking for $24 million in federal appropriations to track grantee use of the ARRA funds. Unfortunately, the Government Accountability Office said the $24 million request would be inadequate in an August 2010 report.

The NARUC has pledged its support for more federal funding urging Congress to ensure NTIA and RUS have adequate funds to continue oversight of ARRA grant and loan awards, before the CR expires on December 3, 2010, either through a supplement to any successor CRs or by enactment of the FY 2011 budget.